In 1957, John Chamberlain created his first sculpture from automobile parts. Shortstop was made with the fenders of a dilapidated 1929 Ford that he found at the house of fellow artist Larry Rivers. In the years that followed, Chamberlain’s work with industrial materials would come to characterize the sculptural arm of Abstract Expressionism. Processes of AbEx paintings that involved action and energy, which harnessed the intrinsic qualities of their medium to produce abstract compositions, took hold in Chamberlain’s sculpture. At the same time, his choice of mass-produced material and scrap metal brought his work into conversation with Pop art as well as the readymades of Duchamp. His work was exhibited alongside Duchamp’s in the Museum of Modern Art’s definitive 1961 exhibition, The Art of Assemblage.
Chamberlain’s Untitled 1973 crumpled aluminum sculpture once belonged to the Walter P. Chrysler Jr. Collection. Created two years after his first retrospective exhibition, organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 1971, this piece marks the artist’s return to metal in the mid-1970s after a period of experimentation with other materials, such as Plexiglas and urethane foam. Here, Chamberlain intervenes with the surface of his aluminum base material, using duct tape, staples, and a smattering of paint – a development that disregarded the Abstract Expressionist principle of medium specificity, the idea that an artist should work within the features unique to the nature of their chosen medium. Although Chamberlain’s most celebrated contribution is to AbEx sculpture, his oeuvrefills a unique space in American sculpture.