John Chamberlain

Six circles of his work at the Guggenheim.  On those damned tilted floors, and those whimjammy alcoves courting vertigo!  Still another occasion to curse Frank Lloyd Wright, who hated any art but architecture. Or really to despise the Guggenheims for having the arrogance to hire him with no heed whatsoever to what Wright plainly said and clearly believed.

John Chamberlain: Choices -- at the Guggenheim

Well then, despite that.

There are other quibbles too…the too-much syndrome, the lockstep chronology arrangement…

Despite them.

Here are these fluid, sensuous, “by hand” forms luxuriantly ignoring their actual material.  Which is, for the most part, sharp edged metal.  Even where edges are razor thin the effect is petal soft.  No wonder so many signs warning not to touch.  The urge to do so is almost overwhelming.

I passed a circle of grade school kids listening to their teacher and one shining faced boy urgently waving his hand. “He folded it.”  It being an eight-foot high conglomeration of brilliant not paper, not cloth, but steel.

Yes, the kid was right,  you can feel John’s hands everywhere.  Crushing a package of cigarettes, bending a bar coaster, playing with the twist ties used in dying women’s hair.

It’s never car wrecks, really, not even when one recognizes a fender or a rear end reflector.  No more than it’s kitchen work when one sees a toaster or the grill of a refrigerator.  It’s landscapes, boats, many human figures, and unashamed abstractions. Lovely example below – purchased by Philip Johnson for The Glass House.

The Archbishop, the Golfer and Ralph, c 2007 John Chamberlain/Artists Rights Society

Aways it’s John’s hands, as he once told me about his haircutting days. With every curl he turned in his hand he would breathe to himself, “There must be a better way (snip); there must be a better way (snip).”

I came away with a sense of that singular focus followed life long. For once he freed himself of David Smith’s drawings and opened up to the force and mentorship of deKooning he continued on just one path; there is only one work that became more and more exuberant and magisterial as he went. Including his last works, ones he could only direct, not touch himself, so debilitating were his illnesses.

These ARE the better way.    is a nice online preview—but PLEASE ignore the damned car references in that text.  So some of the material came out of cars.  All of deKooning’s material came out of cans or tubes. Get over it.  And do get to the Guggenheim if it’s possible. The show will be up until May 13.

tipping hat
John Chamberlain