Lot 20
  • 20

John Chamberlain

1,500,000 - 2,500,000 USD
1,538,500 USD
bidding is closed


  • John Chamberlain
  • Blue Flushing

  • painted and chromium plated steel


Leo Castelli Gallery, New York (LC# 365)
James Corcoran Gallery, New York
Private Collection, New York
Sotheby's, New York, November 11, 1988, Lot 318
Mr. and Mrs. Asher B. Edelman, New York
Sotheby's, New York, May 8, 1996, Lot 51
Private Collection, Ohio
Sotheby's, New York, May 15, 2002, Lot 14
Pace Wildenstein Gallery, New York
L&M Arts, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above


Los Angeles, James Corcoran Gallery, John Chamberlain, November – December 1975
New York, L&M Arts, John Chamberlain: Early Years, May - July 2009, p. 62, illustrated in color


Julie Sylvester, John Chamberlain: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Sculpture 1954 – 1985, New York, 1986, cat. no. 507, p. 142, illustrated in color

Catalogue Note

Willfully unrepressed, Blue Flushing typifies not only John Chamberlain's masterful handling of his chosen material, colored steel auto-body parts, but also his unrivaled capacity for creating arresting, intensely expressive sculpture out of unassuming origins. His artistic practice is, more specifically, driven by an unrelenting curiosity to approach the unknown and to discover dormant knowledge, as it might be accessed via creativity, collage and sculptural endeavor. He has explained, "Probably the key activity in the occupation of art is to find out what you don't know. To start someplace that's curious to you and delve into it in a common way and come out with an uncommon satisfaction, an uncommon piece of knowledge." (Julie Sylvester, John Chamberlain: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Sculpture 1954-1985, New York, 1986, p. 11).

Accordingly, Chamberlain is celebrated for his spontaneous method of "fitting together" colored auto detritus - his welded steel sculptures astonishingly transcend their immense physicality, as the complex interaction of crumpled textures and striking color combinations project ineffable emotion. It was precisely Chamberlain's dedication to intuitive art making that resulted in his canonization among art history's great Abstract Expressionists. Primarily, his energetic and dramatic crushed compositions are credited as having infused volume and physical dimension into the gestural and iconic brushstrokes of the concurrent movement. His expressive - and singular at the time - employment of the colorful sculptural elements, moreover, links his work to the vibrant paintings of Willem de Kooning.

Chamberlain thus received tremendous recognition early in his career, both as a participant in the 1964 Venice Biennale and as the subject of a 1971 retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Upon abundant critical consideration, however, the artist became dismayed by writers who insisted upon interpreting his work as representative of excessive American consumerism, and more exasperatingly, those who reinforced one-dimensional readings of the work as "car crashes." In a gesture intended to assert his sculpture's inherent dearth of conceptual concerns, Chamberlain abandoned his steel car collages for a number of years. In 1974, when a friend claimed the artist "owned" the medium of auto debris, Chamberlain was motivated to resume work on the sculptures. In so doing, he solidified his commitment to what would become a highly idiosyncratic artistic expression. Rendered one year later, Blue Flushing therefore constitutes an example of the artist's early reengagement with the auto body works.

Chamberlain's careful and instinctually driven assembly of the present sculpture's components is evidenced via its exceptional juxtaposition of crinkled and linear metals, as well as its contrasting smooth surfaces and jagged edges. The seemingly effortless marriage of Blue Flushing's varied color palette, additionally, is viscerally stimulating. On the one hand, a gradation of cool blue and paler green suggests tranquility, while on the other hand, the protruding splashes of yellow and red at the heart of the composition invigorate the sculpture with energy and movement.

In this way, Blue Flushing jumps forth from the wall, assuming a unique vigor, which is no doubt reflective of the lively conditions of Chamberlain's studio during the mid 1970s. Located on Vestry Street, the studio was conducive to prolific art making: once he had succeeded in covering the floors with sculpture, Chamberlain would continue with the creation of wall pieces, such as the present work, ultimately filling every inch of the studio space. Regardless of their orientation, however, each work was inspired by the artist's renewed curiosity for the potential fruits of abstraction and intuitive guidance.

As such, Chamberlain's work assumes a compelling presence, or "stance," as he puts it. He has said, "The definition of sculpture for me is stance and attitude. All sculpture takes a stance. If it dances on one foot, or, even if it dances while sitting down, it has light-on-its feet stance." (Exh. Cat., New York, L&M Arts, Inc., John Chamberlain: Early Years, 2009, p. 73).  Remarkably anthropomorphic, the personification of the present piece is partially demonstrated via its former title, Walking Blue, which explicitly implies human movement, perhaps even a dance along the wall.

Poetic and wonderfully deep, the intricacies of Chamberlain's sculpture continue to unfold with extended meditation. Art historian Mark Rosenthal has written of the innate conceptual aspects, stating specifically, "There is, albeit unintended, a political dimension to Chamberlain's focus on these materials. His answer to the conventional, and the conventionally beautiful sculptural materials, such as bronze and steel, is the discarded steel remnants of his society's pretentious stabs at materialist beauty." (Ibid, p. 9). Indeed, Chamberlain's work exudes a raw aestheticism, and unsurprisingly, he has noted, "I get the feeling that I didn't repress what I should have." (Julie Sylvester, John Chamberlain: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Sculpture 1954-1985, New York, 1986, p. 11).