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John Chamberlain was born in 1927 in Rochester, Indiana. He grew up in Chicago and after having lived aboard an aircraft carrier for three years in the 1940s while serving in the US Navy, he returned to Chicago where he attended the Art Institute of Chicago from 1951 to 1952 and then went to the Black Mountain College in North Carolina from 1955 to 1956 where he studied and taught sculpture. In 1956, Chamberlain moved to New York, where he made Shortstop (1957), his first sculpture incorporating automobile parts. He continued to use this material and by 1959, he concentrated on sculpture built entirely of crushed automobile parts welded together. 


Chamberlain’s work achieved critical acclaim in the early 1960s. Gaining a reputation as a three-dimensional abstract Expressionist, chamberlain had his first major solo show in 1960 at the Martha Jackson Gallery, New York. In 1961, his innovative sculptural works led to his inclusion in the Art of Assemblage at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, where his sculpture was shown alongside Futurist, Surrealist, and Cubist works. In the following years, he exhibited in the São Paulo Biennial (1962) and the Venice Biennale (1964). In 1971, Chamberlain's work was presented in a retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum, New York.


In the mid-1970s, Chamberlain expanded his technique by cutting and painting the metal. Seeking to expand the scale of his work, he moved to a larger studio in Sarasota, Florida. There he made the Gondolas (1981-82) and the Giraffe series (1982-83). His next major retrospective was in 1986 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, accompanied by the publication of John Chamberlain: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Sculpture 1954–1985. In 2007, he began to create a new body of work recasting his miniature foil sculptures from the mid-1980s into monumental outdoor sculptures.


Chamberlain died on December 21st, 2011, in New York, after a vibrant sixty-year career.