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Monday
Oct122015

John Chamberlain: HAWKFLIESAGAIN, 2010

John Chamberlain, HAWKFLIESAGAIN, 2010. Painted and chrome-plated steel, 270 x 311 x 221 cm. Artwork Copyright John Chamberlain. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery, photo by Mike Bruce

I'm wondering if there isn't an over-reliance on narrative in much of sculpture today.  Hirschhorn's 2015 In-Between spells out a narrative of building collapse: what it might look like, were it to happen.  As such it doesn't really look like buildings in collapse, which fall apart along structural lines unless helped by a lot of semtex.  However, it is the narrative that is important.  Jeremy Deller's 2009 It Is What It Is, has a more journalistic narrative: the bombed car is a bombed car, importantly from a specific time and place.

As a correlative, I find myself thinking of John Chamberlain's crushed car sculptures of the 1960s which, in his own words, had no weighty narratives attached, he only said they were about detritus, as that is what they were made from: 'individual pieces that are divorced from their material past' which have certain aesthetic qualities – colour, shape, shine, rust, but little 'historical indexical meaning' (these notes from a review by Anne Blood on Chamberlain's 2011 show at the Gagosian, London, the same year that he died).

However, over my adult life, these sculptures have had a zillion narratives and meanings projected on to them; even Anne Blood sees them as 'works formed like a piece of jazz improvisation, the separate pieces meeting like notes in the air, striking harmonics and chords – atonal or harmonious – but ultimately coming together into a pleasing whole' – a projected narrative of working methods, which may or may not be true.  For decades Chamberlain's sculptures were said to 'represent' the excesses of American throwaway culture, its love of big cars, speed, freeways and accidents.  They were, at one time, included in the Pop Art canon, because they used the products of American consumer culture.  They have occupied a subsection of American Arte Povera, because they investigate found materials and re-present them in a way that makes the commonplace a thing of marvel.  The archive of his works at Marfa's Chinati Foundation almost automatically enters the sculptures as land art: assemblages of stuff picked up in the landscape of dead cadillacs. But even at Marfa Chamberlain's works share space with Dan Flavin's neon tubes and Donald Judd's chrome-plated steel boxes, all industrial processes together, in various stages of assembly and decay.

After all these decades (four) can it be that a sculpture is simply the end product of its means of production (from which it derives its deep description) and not a production projecting a meaning, a lesson, a story, a parable?

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