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John Chamberlain Retrospective At Moca


John Chamberlain shocked and beguiled the art world of the late '50s by insisting that crushed auto bodies were art. The first retrospective exhibition of his work opens July 30 at the Museum of Contemporary Art's Temporary Contemporary facility and continues through Oct. 5.

Spanning three decades, the show includes some 100 works, ranging from the trademark crumpled car works to collages, drawings and paintings and additional sculptures in plexiglass, paper, foam rubber and aluminum foil.

The artist made two new pieces especially for this exhibition: a large-scale urethane couch suited to the spacious galleries of the Temporary Contemporary and "Straits of Night," a five-part painted and chromium-plated sculpture.

Chamberlain has said of his metal works, "Using car metal is fine, but the sculptures are not car crashes and they're not violent. Perhaps there was a violence in me that produced these things, which then became much more serene and soft. Perhaps they appear violent to people, but I prefer not to think about that as much as I think about the poetics and the processes."

Chamberlain was born in Rochester, Ind., in 1927. When he began to work in the '50s, sculpture still adhered to formal considerations and was less radical than painting. He broke sculpture's color barrier and relied on intuitive connections to form.

Although he belonged to a group of artists who recycled found objects into a poetry of the ordinary, he remained resolutely abstract. Unlike Johns, Rauschenberg and the subsequent Pop artists, he avoided direct social or political commentary.

For Chamberlain, art is a "peculiar madness in which you use other methods of communication, means that are recognizable to other people to say something they haven't heard yet, or haven't perceived, or have repressed. It's new information or new knowledge. The perception of this knowledge will produce a certain wisdom. This is in the tradition of what art is about or what I feel it is about."

"John Chamberlain" was organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art with Julie Sylvester, author of the catalogue raisonne, as guest curator. Project director for the show was MOCA assistant curator Jacqueline Crist. The catalogue raisonne , in production for five years, is co-published by MOCA and Hudson Hills Press; it contains more than 700 images, an essay by Klaus Kertess and an interview with the artist by Sylvester.

In 1978, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art commissioned internationally noted California artist Sam Francis to make a large painting for its rotunda.

Now completed, the painting consists of five panels, each 23 feet high and 8 feet, 7 inches wide, conceived to cover the entire back wall of the rotunda.

Because of its unusual scale and design, the piece requires special preparation and logistical planning for its display. The five canvases are being removed from their working supports and re-stretched onto permanent, specially designed stretchers. Initial installation is scheduled to precede the official nine-week exhibition in October.

Imagery in the work combines aspects of Francis' painting of the '50s with suggestions of figuration and a new palette of colors. The commission represents Francis' tribute to the city of San Francisco, where he recuperated from illnesses contracted during service in World War II. While hospitalized at the Veterans Administration hospital, he began painting under the tutelage of well-known Bay Area figurative painter David Park.

One of his earliest works was accepted for a juried exhibition at the SFMMA while he was still incapacitated. Francis has since become an artist of international renown. Concurrent with the San Francisco museum commission, he has worked on a European commission of a stained-glass window for the cathedral in Nevers, France.

"Christo: Ten Works in Progress," a 52-minute film, will be screened by the International Arts Foundation July 30 at noon at Crocker Center. The film cites 10 of the artist's ambitious projects, including his most recent wrapping of the Pont Neuf in Paris.

On Aug. 6, the noon film series presents "Japan: The New Art" and "Yoshiko the Papermaker."

"Andy Warhol" is the main attraction Aug. 13, and on Aug. 20 the program consists of "David Hockney's Diaries and "The Artist's Studio: Meyer Shapiro Visits George Segal."

"Arata Isozaki," a 58-minute film on Aug. 27, documents the architect of the Museum of Contemporary Art leading a tour of his most important buildings and speculates on his future directions. An additional screening of the film has been scheduled for 5 p.m. that day.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has canceled its plans for a fall showing of a retrospective exhibition of works by post-World War I German artist Oskar Schlemmer. A related theater program also has been canceled.

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