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Crushed Cars as Art

Peter Fedynsky

New York's Guggenheim Museum has turned into something of a junkyard featuring sculptures made of automobile parts by the late American artist John Chamberlain. The artist was known as a rebel who transformed cars into vehicles that transport the imagination.

A sculpture at the entrance to the museum is made of old car bumpers.  Inside are dozens of other automobile abstractions by sculptor John Chamberlain. He passed away in December at the age of 84.  

While the Guggenheim is not a parking garage, dozens of cars have been parked, so to speak, on each level of its spiraling space.  Chamberlain reshaped the cars in a way that's consistent with the exhibit's name, Choices.  Curator Susan Davidson explains that Chamberlain assembled materials to create three dimensional collages.

"He is able to choose the positioning of the colors, the fit of the shapes that he brings together, the sound that the metal makes when he assembles it," said Davidson.

She says Chamberlain used common materials in an uncommon way.  He sculpted these objects, which look like beanbags, from urethane foam.

This abstraction is made of plastic.  Aluminum foil is the material for the towering sculpture in the Guggenheim foyer.  But his primary resource was old cars.  

Museum Director Richard Armstrong says Chamberlain's work is unique.

"[Chamberlain's work embodies] a free spirit that helps define and redefine mid-20th century art," said Armstrong.

Susan Davidson says Chamberlain had the spirit of an American rebel much like Rock and Roll legend Elvis Presley.

Chamberlain's works are positioned away from the walls so viewers can see them from all sides.  Freelance writer Deborah Bearg says the sculptures offer the imagination an infinity of images.

"Everytime you're looking, you're going to see something else," Bearg explained.  "I'm sure if I walk back through this part of it today, I'll see very different images."

The exhibit is drawing visitors from New York and far away.

Waynette Ballengee from Louisiana says the show initially struck her as junk.

"But as I traveled up the rotunda, it started to make more sense to me," said Ballengee.  "And I thought that it became more interesting, as he changed the way that he worked with the material."

Declan Kennedy, from Ireland, says he was impressed with the building, not the exhibit.

"I think it just looks like a lot of scrunched up metal.  So it doesn't appeal to me," said Kennedy.

Susan Davidson says Chamberlain told her that the secret to artistic success is insanity. He added that art and criminality draw inspiration from the individual's own peculiarities.  He preferred art.

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