Chamberlain – Cham.ber.lain
1. Good intentions gone bad.
2. The physical and psychological mess that accompanies a long night of drinking.
3. Any “artwork” that might seem out of place at a major museum, such as John Chamberlain’s work at the Guggenheim.
The ‘new’ word Chamberlain was discovered when I dragged Jordi to the Guggenheim during a recent trip to NYC. We were going to check out the exhibit dedicated to one of my favorite photographers, FrancescaWoodman.
Instead of being captivated by the prolific – and tragically complete – portfolio of a young
prodigy, we discovered the work of sculptor John Chamberlain. His stuff wasn’t hard to miss.
It was the piles of crushed car parts scattered throughout the museum.
If you check out Chamberlain’s Wikipedia page, it will say that his distinct use of old car parts brought
a third-dimensional element to the Abstract Expressionist movement. He would weld together various
pieces, mainly fenders and chassis, which he sometimes painted with vibrant colors to create structures
that have gone on to be featured in many prominent art galleries across the globe. The work defies
definition and supposedly leaves the viewer with more questions than answers.
Wikipedia also mentions that two of his sculptures were once confused for garbage and hauled to the
dump while outside a Chicago gallery warehouse.
Besides his work with crushed car parts, the Guggenheim retrospective also featured his forays into
working with other materials like foam.
With string and molded tin foil.
My feelings towards Chamberlain’s work could very well be the same I have towards a lot of
contemporary art that leaves the viewer wondering where is the line between art and randomly welded
together, junky car parts. In fact, throughout his lifetime, Chamberlain was dogged by criticisms about
his chosen medium. One of the nicest quotes from his obituary in The New York Times even seems a
“As with a sunset or a snowstorm, you don’t know whether there’s an operating intelligence behind
it all or not, so you learn to accept the manifestations for themselves,” according to the critic Peter
Even now, several days removed from the exhibit, I can’t define his work or the message he tried to
convey. All I know is that for nearly two hours afterwards, Jordi (oft writer for this site and old friend) and I found many uses of our new favorite word: Chamberlain.
You can work it into nearly every sentence. Verb, noun, use it at your will.
“I had way too much to drink last night. I feel like such a Chamberlain.”
”Wow, did you see those cars almost hit each other? That would’ve been a Chamberlain.”
“Don’t see that movie. It is a Chamberlain.”
“Stop Chamberlaining your shirt and let’s go!”
Ed. Note – verb or noun, this has always been and continues to be my favorite kind of Chamberlain: