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John Chamberlain was born on April 16, 1927, in Rochester, Indiana. He grew up in Chicago and attended the Art Institute of Chicago from 1951 to 1952. At that time he began making flat welded sculptures influenced by the work of David Smith. In 1955 and 1956 Chamberlain studied and taught sculpture at Black Mountain College, North Carolina. By 1957 he had begun to include scrap metal from cars in his work, and from 1959 on he concentrated on sculpture built entirely of crushed automobile parts welded together. Chamberlain’s first major solo show was held at the Martha Jackson Gallery in New York in 1960.
Chamberlain’s work was widely acclaimed in the early 1960s. Beginning in 1962 Chamberlain showed frequently at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York, and in 1964 his work was exhibited at the Venice Biennale. While he continued to make sculpture from auto parts, Chamberlain also experimented with other mediums. From 1963 to 1965 he made geometric paintings with sprayed automobile paint. In 1966, the same year he received the first of two fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, he began a series of sculptures of rolled, folded, and tied urethane foam. These were followed in 1970 by sculptures of melted or crushed metal and heat-crumpled Plexiglas. Chamberlain’s work was presented in a retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1971.
In the early 1970s Chamberlain began once more to make large works from automobile parts. Until the mid-1970s the artist assembled these auto sculptures on the ranch of collector Stanley Marsh in Amarillo, Texas. In 1977 he began experimenting with photography taken with a panoramic Widelux camera. His next major retrospective was held at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 1986. In 1993 Chamberlain received both the Skowhegan Medal for Sculpture and the Lifetime Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award from the International Sculpture Center. In 1997 Chamberlain was named a recipient of the National Arts Club’s Gold Medal Visual Arts Award, and in 1999 he received the Distinction in Sculpture Honor from the Sculpture Center in New York. Over the past decade the artist has expanded his well-established career by undertaking a new medium: the large-format photograph. The artist died in New York on December 21, 2011.