• Understanding Unlikeness

    Adrian Kohn (see profile)
    History of Art
    Art criticism, Art, History
    Item Type:
    Art history
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    Here is just some of what we are given to understand John Chamberlain’s art as being like: car wrecks and dancers, artichokes and mummies and giant phalluses, drapery, a football player, ornaments for an immense Christmas tree and monstrous jungle-gyms, a sucked egg, and Titans beside themselves with rage. Next, a long list of the art-historical movements that his pieces have brought to mind: the baroque and rococo, neoclassicism, Cubism, Dada and Surrealism, both Abstract Expressionism and Pop, and also Minimalism and Process art. And, lastly, a very long list of the artists whose works Chamberlain’s are said to resemble in one way or another: Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Peter Paul Rubens, Auguste Rodin, Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, Arshile Gorky, Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning, David Smith, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, Mark di Suvero, and Donald Judd. Chamberlain himself has taken part in this frenzy as well. He mentioned in various instances how his objects are like jigsaw puzzles, like a girl he used to know in Philadelphia, like lasagna, and like sex. And why not? Certainly some will judge this breathtaking list of likenesses as ample proof of artistic achievement, a body of work so wide open that evidently this or that piece corresponds with about anything you could want it to. But one might also pause to marvel at the forced associations across fifty years of writing on Chamberlain’s art and wonder why we cannot get over trying to figure out what his creations remind us of, what they evoke, what they are similar to. We risk missing all that is new in the work when we cast about for likenesses to everything we already know.
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    6 years ago
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