Inverleith House, Edinburgh presents the first exhibition in a UK public gallery by the great American artist John Chamberlain (1927-2011). One of the pioneers of post-war American art, Chamberlain was a key figure in the vibrant New York art scene of the 1950s and ‘60s; his innovative work in sculpture, painting and film spans six decades.
Chamberlain represents a unique link between the vivid colour palettes and frenetic energy of Abstract Expressionist painting and the truthfulness to material found in Minimalist sculpture.
Defying easy categorisation, Chamberlain continues to exert a powerful influence on artists working today. A self-described collagist, concerned with the ‘fit’ of a sculpture, Chamberlain’s well-known use of discarded car parts within his work often overshadows a radical and diverse engagement with other materials, such as urethane foam, paper bags, Plexiglas, galvanised or stainless steel, and aluminium foil.
This exhibition seeks to represent the many facets of Chamberlain’s broad investigation into materiality as well as engage with the natural context of Inverleith House and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh where his sculptures, presented both inside the gallery and outdoors, resonate with the site’s formal yet unwieldy natural elements of trees, flowers and shrubs, revealing the power and innovation of an artist completely beyond style or fashion.
The exhibition features 19 sculptures on loan from the Dia Art Foundation in New York which have never before been exhibited outside North America. These include a number of Chamberlain’s series of small sculptures entitled Penthouse, 1969, watercolour and resin on paper; Stuffed Dog, 1970, in urethane foam with cord and paint – and Socket, 1978, in painted aluminium. Also present are a number of crushed and manipulated metal sculptures including It Ain’t Cheap (1965), and several larger works such as Rainier Falls (1977), Chickmeat (1979), and Gondola Walt Whitman (1981-82), one of a series of works dedicated to poets and writers. These works are accompanied by other major sculptures on loan from private collections in Europe and America.
Four of Chamberlain’s late works, monumental sculptures in bright green, pink and bronze coloured aluminium – Ritzfrolic, Wishingwellwink, Fiddlersfortune (all 2010) and Naughtynightcap (2008) can be viewed outdoors in the Garden’s landscaped grounds. The tiny aluminium foil maquettes made by Chamberlain for these sculptures are also displayed, at Inverleith House.
The exhibition also presents for the first time in the UK, a continuous digital screening of The Secret Life of Hernando Cortez (1969), an experimental film originally shot on 16mm, directed by and featuring Chamberlain and a number of Warhol superstars including Ultra Violet and Taylor Mead.
‘There should be one place where your act of discovery is still alive and I think that place is art.’ John Chamberlain.
John Chamberlain – Inverleith House – until 4 October 2015