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Chamberlain, John Madame Moon, 1964


John Chamberlain was born in Rochester, in Fulton County, but lived in the Hoosier State only a short while. He moved to Chicago when he was 4 to live with his grandmother after his parents divorced. Following high school he served in the Navy during World War II, then studied hairstyling and briefly attended the Art Institute of Chicago in the early 1950s. He also studied at Black Mountain College in North Carolina before moving to New York City in 1957. There he began using sheet metal and used auto parts to make sculptures. Chamberlain was greatly influenced by the Abstract Expressionist sculptures of David Smith and the paintings of Willem de Kooning, which were exhibited at the Art Institute. He is best known for his use of sheet metal and crushed car parts, but he has also made paintings and video art. Chamberlain had his first one-person exhibition in 1960, and in 1961 his sculptures were included in the groundbreaking show The Art of Assemblage at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. In 1993, he was awarded the Skowhegan Medal for Sculpture and a Lifetime Achievement Award in Contemporary Sculpture from the International Sculpture Center.

  • Madame Moon, 1964
  • 15 1/2″ x 26 1/2″ x 21 1/2″
  • Indianapolis Museum of Art
  • Keywords: sculptures, forging (metal forming), painted and chrome-plated steel
  • Subjects: automobiles, memorials, planets, aeronautics

In 1963, Chamberlain and his family moved to Topanga Canyon, California, where this sculpture was made. Madame Moon is constructed of painted and chrome-plated steel. The pieces of automobile parts are welded together. There is a contrast between the rounded, curved forms and the hard, industrial metal materials. Guggenheim curator Jennifer Blessing has said, “On some level, [Chamberlain’s] conglomerations of automobile carcasses must inevitably be perceived as witnesses of the car culture from which they were born, and for which they serve as memorials.” This may also be seen in relation to the prominent car and motor sports industries in Indiana, both historically and during Chamberlain’s childhood. The title of this sculpture apparently is a reference to NASA’s Apollo/Saturn program of the 1960s. In the year Chamberlain made this sculpture, NASA launched three unmanned Earth Orbiting Missions.

Some Points To Consider

  • Ask students to describe the forms used in this sculpture. Ask: Are they geometric or organic? Are the colors of paint and chrome compatible with the automobile parts sculpture? (Art 4.3.1, 4.7.2) Let students speculate about the meaning of the sculpture. Ask them why they think it is table-size, shiny, and called Madame Moon. (Art 4.3.2, 4.5.1)