Menil's John Chamberlain Sculptures to Be Restored

Perhaps the only bummer is that he won't be around to see it.

This week, The Menil Collection announced that it has received Bank of America's Art Conservation Project grant, which the museum will use to restore its John Chamberlain sculptures. The abstract expressionist -- who created unforgettable works from car fenders, hoods and bumpers -- died at age 84 on December 21, 2011.

An obvious challenge, since the artist is no longer on the planet, is to keep the works true to their original form without direct feedback from the creator. They've apparently got that covered, explains project head and chief conservator Brad Epley -- who is teaming up with Shelley Smith, the Menil's objects conservator -- to be sure the deed is done right.

"We are also gathering as much information as possible regarding John Chamberlain's creative process and how this changed over time," says Epley. "Understanding how the pieces fit together is critical during this process. Our goal and the challenge is to successfully treat each piece, always being true to John Chamberlain's aesthetic."

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New York's Whitney Museum, the Tate Modern in London and Paris's Centre Pompidou can all boast Chamberlain's work, but it's the Menil that's able to flaunt one of the largest collections (14 drawings and 12 sculptures) by the American artist. Two of the works from Menil's stash are currently on display in the Guggenheim's retrospective exhibit "John Chamberlain: Choices."

Chamberlain, born in Rochester, Indiana, in 1927, created his first sculpture made entirely from decaying auto parts in 1959. From there, he gained worldwide notoriety for a style that he swore wasn't some sort of wrecked statement about American automobile culture.

"It seems no one can get free of the car-crash syndrome," Chamberlain explained to curator Julie Sylvester in 1986. "For 25 years, I've been using colored metal to make sculpture, and all they can think of is, 'What the hell car did that come from?'"


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