Lot 47
  • 47

John Chamberlain

1,500,000 - 2,000,000 USD
1,025,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • John Chamberlain
  • Swannanoa/Swannanoa II
  • signed
  • painted and chromium-plated steel with wood and metal base


Martha Jackson Gallery, New York (acquired by 1960)
The Mayor Gallery, London (acquired from the above in 1977)
Peder Bonnier, New York
The Lone Star Foundation, Inc., New York (acquired from the above in July 1979)
Acquired by the present owner from the above in August 1980


New York, Martha Jackson Gallery, John Chamberlain, January 1960 
Ithaca, Andrew Dickson White Museum of Art, Cornell University, Fourteenth Festival of Contemporary Art, February 1960
São Paulo, Museu de Arte Moderna, Bienal do Museu de Arte Moderna, São Paulo, September – December 1961 
Los Angeles, Dwan Gallery, John Chamberlain, November 1966 – January 1967 
Tokyo, Seibu Department Store, Martha Jackson Gallery Collection, September 1971, illustrated 
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, John Chamberlain: A Retrospective Exhibition, December 1971 – February 1972, cat. no. 10, p. 30, illustrated
College Park, The University of Maryland Art Gallery; New York, Finch College Museum of Art; Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, The Private Collection of Martha Jackson, June 1973 – February 1974, cat. no. 85, p. 35, illustrated
West Nyack, Rockland Center for the Arts and Rockland Community College; Albany, University Art Gallery, State University of New York; San Antonio, Koehler Cultural Center, San Antonio College, Works from the Martha Jackson Gallery Collection, November 1974 – May 1975
Santa Barbara, The Art Galleries, University of California; Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum, 7 + 5: Sculptures in the 1950s, January – April 1976, cat. no. 6, p. 28, illustrated
New York, Zabriskie Gallery, Welded Sculpture, September – October 1976 
London, The Mayor Gallery, John Chamberlain: An Exhibition of Sculpture: 1959-1962, June – August 1977, cat. no. 5, illustrated 
Sarasota, The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, International Florida Artists, February - April 1981
Baden-Baden, Kunsthalle; Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, John Chamberlain, May – November 1991, cat. no. 9, p. 50 illustrated in color
Houston, The Menil Collection, Six Artists, May - September 1992 
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art;  Minneapolis, Walker Art Center; San Francisco, M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, Beat Culture and the New America, 1950-1965, November 1995 - December 1996, p. 58, illustrated in color
New York, Pace Wildenstein Gallery, Willem de Kooning, John Chamberlain: Influence and Transformation, September - October 2001


Donald Judd, “In the Galleries,” Arts, vol. 34, no. 5, February 1960, p. 57, illustrated 
Irving H. Sandler, The New York School: The Painters and Sculptors of the Fifties, New York, 1978, fig. 116, p. 156, illustrated
Julie Sylvester, ed., John Chamberlain: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Sculpture 1954 – 1985, New York, 1986, cat. no. 33, p. 51, illustrated in color
Exh. Cat., New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, John Chamberlain: Choices, 2012, fig. 30, p. 47, illustrated in installation at Martha Jackson Gallery, New York, 1960

Catalogue Note

Swannanoa/Swannanoa II stands alone in John Chamberlain’s prodigious oeuvre as a sculpture that the artist revisited and reworked fifteen years after its initial conception. First fabricated in 1959, the form of Swannanoa/Swannanoa II is prototypical of Chamberlain’s early explorations into the use of repurposed automobile parts as the materials for his art. Created at a critical moment on the precipice of the 1960s, the present work is both stylistically consistent with the pieces that immediately preceded it and anticipates the sculptures to come. Like Shortstop, created two years earlier and the first piece created with what would become the artist’s signature medium, Swannanoa/Swannanoa II is predominantly composed of unadorned steel stripped from discarded automobiles. Unlike Shortstop, however, color begins to emerge subtly in the present work, asserting itself in the thin sinuous strip of red steel that rests at the top of the sculpture, as well as in the reflective navy blue and yellow element that is attached to the opposite outer curving edge. The artist’s signature is visible on this chromium-plated blue patch, signifying a stamp of ownership and investment in the work that is rare to see amongst Chamberlain’s sculpture. Perching atop a wooden base bearing a plaque that identifies the title of the work, Swannanoa/Swannanoa II seems to open itself up to us, as if it were spreading its wings to reveal an entangled swirl of steel strips compositionally buttressed by the flat, impenetrable gray sheets at each side. The work is visually stunning in a way that encourages a visceral response to its majestic presence, but the true significance of Swannanoa/Swannanoa II resides in the unique place that it occupies in the history of Chamberlain’s laudable corpus.

In an interview with Julie Sylvester, conducted nearly ten years after Chamberlain reworked and restored the present sculpture in New Mexico in 1974, he stated: “…I don’t really remake pieces – if you did that then all of your work would culminate in your attitude of a single year. When you do lots of paintings, or sculptures, or whatever, you leave the old ones alone, because that’s where they were in 1963, or in 1974. That’s the way you thought and acted and responded in, say, 1980. You can’t work on something you made in 1962 in 1983.” (the artist in conversation with Julie Sylvester in: Julie Sylvester, ed., John Chamberlain: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Sculpture 1954 – 1985, New York, 1986, p. 16) Throughout the more than fifty years that John Chamberlain created sculptures he adamantly emphasized progress and evolution in his style, refusing, except in the case of the present work, to return to a previous aesthetic moment. This unique nature of Swannanoa/Swannanoa II in fact crystallizes and captures a salient moment of the artist’s transformative aesthetic journey.

Chamberlain’s thirst for experimentation and artistic growth was never more pronounced than during the 1960s and early 1970s. Discouraged by a critical misreading of his crushed automotive sculptures as being violent, symbolizing car crashes or the destructive nature of the American cultural reliance on the automobile, Chamberlain made a concerted move toward new and different materials. In 1963 the artist moved away from New York and, beginning with an exhibition of sculptures fabricated out of industrial foam padding at the Dwan Gallery in Los Angeles in November of that year, initiated the most sustained period of experimentation of his entire career. Chamberlain returned to New York in 1967 and created his Penthouse series of crushed paper and lacquer pieces in 1969 before moving once again to Los Angeles in 1970, where he created his melting Plexiglas works. The early 1970s saw the creation of a group of sculptures made out of heavy-gauge aluminum foil, and the close to this prolonged period of artistic exploration: “Chamberlain has identified this exploratory period in his career, from 1965 to 1972, as his ‘seven-year hiatus’ from more rigid sheet metal. He talks frequently and proudly of moving away from the coziness of his accustomed material and digging deep into these other materials as part of his ‘job’ as an artist. He also recognizes that this movement away from his standard material led him back to it with renewed vigor.” (Susan Davidson, “A Sea of Foam, an Ocean of Metal” in Exh. Cat., New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, John Chamberlain: Choices, 2012, p. 25)

In 1974 John Chamberlain returned both to the present work and to sheet metal as his primary material, and he dedicated himself to creating works out of automobile parts for the remainder of his storied career. When he reworked the present sculpture Chamberlain added “Swannanoa II” to its title and amended the date to “1959/1974,” thus officially acknowledging the sculpture’s unique status as belonging to two critical periods: the early mature investigation into his signature medium, and his later and definitive return to that medium. As such, Swannanoa/Swannanoa II occupies a place of supreme importance in the scope of Chamberlain’s artistic evolution, for it can be considered an example both of the emergence and the ultimate confirmation of the artist’s utterly unique and renowned aesthetic.