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Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum Announces John Chamberlain. Choices Retrospective

From February 24 to May 13, 2012, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum presents John Chamberlain: Choices, a major retrospective comprising approximately ninety-five works by the important American artist and the first U.S. museum presentation of his work since 1986. The exhibition examines Chamberlain’s development over his sixty-year career, exploring the shifts in scale, materials, and techniques informed by the assemblage, or collage, process that has been central to his working method. Taking as a point of departure his 1971 Guggenheim exhibition, the retrospective presents works from the artist’s earliest monochromatic iron sculptures and experiments in foam, Plexiglas, and paper to his latest large-scale foil pieces, which have never been shown in the United States, and addresses the “chosen”—Chamberlain prefers this term to “found”—element in his lifelong engagement with recycled materials.

Dolores James, 1962. Painted and chromium-plated steel, 72 1/2 × 101 1/2 × 46 1/4 inches (184.2 × 257.8 × 117.5 cm). Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York © 2011 John Chamberlain / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: David Heald/Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

John Chamberlain: Choices is organized by Susan Davidson, Senior Curator, Collections and Exhibitions, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Following its New York presentation, John Chamberlain: Choices will travel to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, where it will be on view from March through September 2013.

This exhibition is supported by the Henry Luce Foundation and the Terra Foundation for American Art.

The Leadership Committee for John Chamberlain: Choices is gratefully acknowledged.

“One day something—some one thing—pops out at you, and you pick it up, and you take it over, and you put it somewhere else, and it fits. It’s just the right thing at the right moment. You can do the same thing with words or with metal,” Chamberlain has stated. Fit and choice have rightly become the guiding principles for Chamberlain’s work. His respect for the material’s inherent properties informs the multiplicity of his forms, the simplicity of his process, and the work’s complex underpinnings. The title of the Guggenheim’s exhibition pays tribute to the artist’s process of active selection, or choosing, that is fundamental to his practice.

Born in 1927 in Rochester, Indiana, Chamberlain briefly studied painting at the Art Institute of Chicago (1951–52), and at the avant-garde Black Mountain College (1955–56), near Asheville, North Carolina, where he credits his time with teachers including poets Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, and Charles Olson among the greatest influences on his work. He rose to prominence in the late 1950s with energetic, vibrant sculptures hewn from disused car parts, achieving a three-dimensional form of Abstract Expressionism that astounded critics and captured the imagination of fellow artists. An inveterate rebel, Chamberlain also violated the formalist prohibition deriding the use of color in sculpture. He chose to adapt uncommon, recycled materials in his work such as the slick, industrial palette of defunct auto bodies.

The exhibition encompasses John Chamberlain’s full range of sculptural production and is organized chronologically, spiraling up the Frank Lloyd Wright–designed rotunda. Relief sculptures and assemblages installed on the walls and on the ramps create opportunities to experience the work two-dimensionally as well as in the round. Doomsday Flotilla (1982), a seven-part work of painted and chromium-plated steel, is on view in the High Gallery, and SPHINXGRIN TWO (1986/2010), an aluminum arc reaching up to 16 feet, is installed on the rotunda floor and marks the first time a work from this series has been shown in the United States. A foam sculpture carved to resemble and serve as a couch for visitors, which occupied the rotunda floor during the 1971 retrospective, will be re-installed on Rotunda Level 6.

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