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"Artist of auto metal" John Chamberlain dies at 84; more than 25 of his works are in the Menil Collection

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John Chamberlain Photo by Patrick McMullan
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John Chamberlain, Elixir, 1983, painted steel, at the Menil Collection Courtesy of The Menil Collection, Houston
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Chamberlain's works on display at The Chinati Foundation in Marfa Photo by Lindsay Pollock
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John Chamberlain, Arthur Banres, 1977, painted and chromium-plated steel, at the Menil Collection Courtesy of The Menil Collection, Houston
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News_John Chamberlain_art_Elixir_1983
News_John Chamberlain_The Chinati Foundation_Marfa
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John Chamberlain, whose twisted sculptures of crushed metal car parts remain a hallmark of 20th century art, died in Manhattan on Wednesday at the age of 84.

"The world has lost a brilliant artist — he will be so enormously missed," Josef Helfenstein, director of the Menil Collection, told CultureMap. The Menil holds more than 25 Chamberlain pieces.

Born in 1927 in Rochester, Ind., and raised in Chicago, Chamberlain attended the Art Institute of Chicago and the famed Black Mountain College before relocating to New York City in 1956. The following year, Chamberlain would make his first works from automobile scrap metal. By the early 1960s his sculptures were shown at the Museum of Modern Art. In 1971, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum launched his first retrospective.

 The Menil opened to the public in 1987 with an inaugural show dedicated to Chamberlain, featuring 23 of the artist's sculptures from the 1970s and '80s.

 John and Dominique de Menil started collecting Chamberlain's work early in the artist's career, acquiring first a drawing in 1968 and adding sculptures and works on paper throughout the following decades.

Today, the Menil Collection has 26 Chamberlain pieces, evenly divided between sculptures and works on paper. The museum opened to the public in 1987 with an inaugural show dedicated to Chamberlain, featuring 23 of the artist's sculptures from the 1970s and '80s.

"John Chamberlain’s spirit and his work live on," Helfenstein said. "We feel and see his greatness at the Menil, which opened 25 years ago [next year] with a remarkable exhibition of his works.”

Several of the sculptor's pieces from the Menil will be on view in a major Chamberlain retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in February, 2012.

The Dia Art Foundation, started by Philippa de Menil, Dominique de Menil's daughter, also collected numerous car-metal sculptures, 22 of which were donated to the Chinati Foundation for permanent display inside its Chamberlain Building in Marfa.

At the time of his death, Chamberlain lived and worked in Shelter Island, N.Y., at the eastern end of Long Island. The artist was prolific throughout his later years and mounted a show of new work at the Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea this past spring.

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