PRINT February 1967

A New Medium for John Chamberlain

FOR EVERY GENUINE MOMENT in modern sculpture—such as John Chamberlain’s own crushed-automobile sculptures of the mid-fifties—there are hundreds and hundreds of driftwood vulvas cast in bronze and called Departure. Against this relentless accumulation of insipid imagery there is no defense, perhaps, except parody, and it is to parody that John Chamberlain, during a Los Angeles interlude, has directed his attention.

Densely cluttering the floor of Los Angeles’ Dwan Gallery during Chamberlain’s recent exhibition were upwards of some two dozen sculptural “forms,” all made out of foam rubber, and managing, in the range of their invective, to echo, and thereby demolish, every neo-Brancusi, neo-Arp hybrid, crazy conglomeration of egg-shapes, pod-shapes, bowl-shapes, and beautiful curve-of-the-nape-of-the-neck shapes ever created. (How easily, had Chamberlain chosen to be more obvious, these pieces could have been called Foam Rubber Departure, Foam Rubber Flight, Foam Rubber White Negress, Foam Rubber Equilibrium, Foam Rubber Song, Foam Rubber Thirst, ad infinitum.) One large, hamburger shaped piece even seems to take a passing whack at Oldenburg.

Almost all of the forms in the exhibition are produced by the basically simple expedient of tightly cinching the waist of a piece of urethane foam rubber with a length of nylon cord. The resulting bilabial configuration is then, evidently, trimmed or finished to the artist’s taste. Behind the flowers of malice that have so far resulted, one senses, perhaps, Chamberlain probing and testing the possibilities of another “unthinkable” medium. For his purposes at present, he has not found it necessary to alter either the color or, in many cases, the actual edges of the original, and here and there one could find, stamped in blue, lot numbers and other commercial information, as well as other evidences of Chamberlain’s disinterest in “transforming” the medium into a more palatable offering.

Whether Chamberlain continues to pursue his adventures with foam rubber or not, the elegant and cathartic wit of the current exhibition has made what he has done with it so far eminently worthwhile.

Philip Leider