John Chamberlain, our own master of auto parts, has passed on, and, with the orgy of branded production of his car conglomerations by all the best and richest galleries in the last three decades, it is difficult to remember when Chamberlain was young, innovative and experimental. Those were the days when Chamberlain would say, "I knew a work was finished when the pieces fit together."
The most esthetically satisfying Chamberlain sculptures are the small maquettes of his youth. You can hold them in your hands, perfectly, just as he did.
Chamberlain, in youthful competition with Anthony Caro, Joel Shapiro, Donald Judd and Mark di Suvero (not to mention Nancy Graves, whose animals have a rough affinity with Chamberlain's work), varied his practice and materials all over the map, from totems stuck in the wall, which he showed at Leo Castelli Gallery in 1974, to feminine Plexiglas edgework out of Fernand Léger and bound-up rotting foam car seats out of Ed Kienholz, which collectors hated because of the smell.
Too bad that John had to keep dragging smashed up bits from under the wrecking ball for the rest of his career to keep in the money and in the big Chelsea gallery spaces. He coulda done better.
See Emily Nathan's profile of John Chamberlain in Artnet Magazine from Sept. 2, 2011.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).