DAVID COHEN, Editor           
       Spring 2003  


John Chamberlain: Recent Sculpture

PaceWildenstein Gallery
534 West 25th Street, New York NY 10001

January 16 to March 1, 2003

By LORI ORTIZ

John Chamberlain Potawatami Falls 2002
painted, chromed and stainless steel,
116¼ x 5¼ x 48 inches
courtesy PaceWildenstein Gallery, New York

 

The show at Pace / Wildenstein of new sculptures by John Chamberlain features ribbons of cast and cut sheet metal which were assembled and manipulated in the studio. The mature work is a direct and long gestated outgrowth of the phenomenal classics of crushed auto parts from the wrecking yard which were his oeuvre.

The work here takes on a festive look, even erotic. Its free flowing movement sets it apart from Frank Stella's candy coated cut aluminum sculptures of the '80's. A postmodern cool characterizes the articulated surfaces and repetitive elements of the Chamberlain work. It is not self-referential and is devoid of cryptic, lofty, or exclusive significance. A nurturing generosity seems effortlessly wrenched from the unforgiving material. Though the larger than life monumental figures reach over nine feet in height, their presence is magnanimous rather than confrontational.

Shredded robotic or creeping crustacean assemblages stand at about four feet and are also commanding but benign. These mid-sized works look ready to tumble like ball moss with their airy composition, if not for the extended feet that ground them.

There are smaller wall pieces that appear to be in flight. They feature a sensuality that additionally connects this work to the wall sculptures of Linda Benglis. These are confident gestures about a somewhat fragile environment. In that the work evokes a conflation of images, it remains arguably non-objective; identification in that camp still helps to describe the work.

The surfaces are painted with the colors of crumpled candy wrappers or the colored mylar sequins on car wash billboards. The curved forms with their twists and turns would clash in a Frank Gehry building. The sculptures do not take themselves too seriously; they avoid the stilted, unbalanced or unwieldy look of overwork. And a fine tuned sense of discretion leaves us with this exhibition of sculptures that seem to sway like ribbons of seaweed in the water.

Chamberlain lives and works on Shelter Island surrounded by Gardiners Bay. A sense of place makes its way into the work. Not only his marine retreat, but the familiar and generic neighborhood carwash leaves its mark. The tones and light weight of sequins fluttering in the urban breeze, look fresh on these gallery walls. Alternately, it is a forest of crossover species resembling both flora and fauna. We are walking on the sea floor, perusing in a showroom of enormous striated trees, or stands of rushes-without the smell of brine or pine.

Chamberlain does not lose the original character of the rough-cut material and the original seed of inspiration in the industrial. Up close, burn marks blacken welds; transparent washes incompletely cover metallic ground/supports. One can see on further inspection how the pieces are assembled into a rich and vivid, yet complex whole. Chamberlain juxtaposes strips of these transparent pastel swathes with ones that feature opaque primary colored paint; the bare mild steel and shiny stainless underneath extends in haphazard borders which add to the riot of flashing color. The assembled pieces come to life like the juxtaposition of differently colored paint strokes in a pointillist painting. The graphic device is part of Chamberlain's artistry in his assemblages of mass, air and color.

Though the caterpillar's crush on these distressed metal strips continues to embody the sadness and pain of tragedy; wandering this forest of reflecting relics is also redemptive.

LORI ORTIZ is a painter and writer living in Brooklyn. She has written for Brooklynrail, Waterfront Week, wburg.com, The Arts Cure and Zingmagazine.