Elegant and dynamic, ‘CUPCAKECUTIE’ (2008) is an outstanding example of John Chamberlain’s adventurous sculptural practice. Part of the artist’s ‘Wheel’ series, consisting of less than twenty works, this striking sculpture captures the complexity and innovation that underscores Chamberlain’s sixty-year career. It showcases the ceaseless ingenuity and pioneering vision that defined his mature oeuvre as he undertook more delicate and whimsical configurations. From any perspective, the sculpture takes a different form, prompting the viewer to explore each eccentric fold, twist, and curl.
In line with the ‘Wheel’ series, in ‘CUPCAKECUTIE’ undulating ribbons of steel swirl into a dynamic vortex as if subject to strong gravitational pull, creating an illusion of perpetual revolution. Chamberlain achieves this effect through a mastery of his medium. He renders the density of steel into something that is seemingly weightless and fluid, elegant yet powerful. Chamberlain employs a limited color palette of black and white, punctuated with reflective chrome, to explore the interplay of light, volume and space, accentuating the texture of the rippling bands of steel.
Chamberlain forgoes his longstanding use of automotive steel in favour of thin strips of stainless steel. This shift in material dates to the 1970s, when he conceived an underwater sculpture for Donald Judd’s swimming pool in Marfa, Texas. As undulating bands cannot be cut from unmalleable automotive parts, which would also rust if submerged, Chamberlain opted for stainless steel. Although the work went unrealised until 2005, Chamberlain spent years exploring the possibilities of this new medium, culminating in a group of formally similar sculptures, including ‘CUPCAKECUTIE.’
While exemplifying the significance of color and structural relationships in Chamberlain’s practice, ‘CUPCAKECUTIE’ also reflects the artist’s sense of humour and poetic sensibility. His interest in poetry and ideograms began while studying at the famous Black Mountain College in the mid-1950s. Accordingly, the abstraction of language—repetition, rhyme and alliteration—feature prominently in Chamberlain’s practice and ‘CUPCAKECUTIE’ exemplifies his register of punning titles. The way his titles sound when pronounced and the form they appear are considered independent and integral components of their sculptural counterparts.
John Chamberlain (1927 – 2011) was a quintessentially American artist, channelling the innovative power of the Post-War years into a relentlessly inventive practice spanning six decades. He first achieved renown for sculptures made in the late 1950s through 1960s from automobile parts—these were path-breaking works that effectively transformed the gestural energy of Abstract Expressionist painting into three dimensions. Chamberlain’s compositions of twisted, crushed, and forged metal also bridged the divide between Process Art and Minimalism, drawing tenets of both into a new kinship.
First opened in 2016 in a former flour mill in the heart of the Downtown Los Angeles Arts District, our Los Angeles gallery is a vibrant communal space that links art and architecture with a dynamic events program. ‘CUPCAKECUTIE’ is on view by appointment alongside our public exhibition program. Please visit our location page or contact the team to learn more.
John Chamberlain, CUPCAKECUTIE, 2008 © 2022 Fairweather & Fairweather LTD / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Thomas Barratt John Chamberlain in his temporary living quarters and studio, Glueck’s Auto Parts salvage, Osprey, Florida, August 27, 1980. Photo: © Marcia Corbino