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  • Rainey Knudson

Jolly John Chamberlain (248 words)

I recently ran across this 1964 image of the sculptor John Chamberlain, by Ugo Mulas:

I know Chamberlain mostly for his balled-up crushed car sculptures at the Chinati Foundation out in Marfa. Before I saw this photograph, I had never given any thought to what he might look like. But a jolly, slightly plump, slightly louche, fluffily-mustachioed man covered in WWII Navy tattoos wouldn't have been my first guess. Something more along the lines of Richard Serra: serious, grim, spitting nails and crushing cars with his bare hands. The art world's macho men of steel, as it were.

Of course, there is Chamberlain's later, goofier work, notably his wonderful, giant twisted tinfoil shapes. But the car pieces from the 60s are all-caps CHAMBERLAIN.

In this photo anyway, he looks like he'd be fun to have a beer with. Was he? Wikipedia reveals a disappointing anecdote about Chamberlain the man. In her book Famous For 15 Minutes: My Years with Andy Warhol, the Factory star Ultra Violet claimed that her relationship with Chamberlain ended when she became pregnant by him and he replied, "That's your problem." I'll file that one, yet again, under Separating The Art From The Artist.

And the photographer? Ugo Mulas was a prominent Italian photographer who produced a large body of work around New York artists in the early 1960s, as seen in recent years at Matthew Marks Gallery and the Jewish Museum.

They're good photographs. As usual, it all looks very glamorous in retrospect.


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