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‘Intense’ sculptures by John Chamberlain find fitting surroundings in Aspen

Hulking, angular sculptures by the late artist John Chamberlain are now on display at the Aspen Art Museum. “The Tighter They’re Wound, the Harder They Unravel” is up through April 7, 2024.
Daniel Pérez
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Courtesy of the Aspen Art Museum
Hulking, angular sculptures by the late artist John Chamberlain are now on display at the Aspen Art Museum. “The Tighter They’re Wound, the Harder They Unravel” is up through April 7, 2024.

Sculptures made of car parts, toys, foil and foam fill most of the Aspen Art Museum this winter. Some of the pieces are small enough to fit inside a shoebox, while others are almost as big as a sedan. And all were created by John Chamberlain, the late artist whose six-decade career is the focus of an exhibition called “The Tighter They’re Wound, the Harder They Unravel.”

“Chamberlain was an intense artist, but also kind of had a pointed, dry sense of humor,” said Daniel Merritt, the director of curatorial affairs for the museum.

He references pieces like “Toy,” which Chamberlain created out of a “wadded-up slip and slide,” as evidence that the artist’s work can be playful as well as powerful. Other works, made out of hulking, angular pieces of steel, show Chamberlain’s more serious side; Merritt said the severity of those works is exaggerated by the surroundings of Aspen.

“I think part of the magic of this exhibition is the fact that these larger-than-life sculptures — particularly focused in one of the galleries — are here in the mountains, … and seeing them within a kind of intense Alpine landscape, I think, heightens the experience of them,” Merritt said.

“The Tighter They’re Wound, the Harder They Unravel” is the first major Chamberlain show in more than a decade, but it offers a more selective scope than the typical career survey, according to Merritt. The museum selected contemporary sculptor Urs Fisher as the lead curator on the exhibition, and gave Fisher the opportunity to offer his own take on “this kind of icon of American art,” Merritt said.

“When we invited Urs to curate it, we had an understanding that of course it was going to be different than a more traditional kind of retrospective, (which) features everything and is meant to give the most kind of detailed portrait of an artist,” Merritt said. “I think this exhibition instead positions Chamberlain kind of through the eyes of Urs.”

Fisher has also produced a new book about the artist, titled “John Chamberlain Against the World.”

The exhibition at the Aspen Art Museum is up through April 7, 2024.

Kaya Williams is the Edlis Neeson Arts and Culture Reporter at Aspen Public Radio, covering the vibrant creative and cultural scene in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley. She studied journalism and history at Boston University, where she also worked for WBUR, WGBH, The Boston Globe and her beloved college newspaper, The Daily Free Press. Williams joins the team after a stint at The Aspen Times, where she reported on Snowmass Village, education, mental health, food, the ski industry, arts and culture and other general assignment stories.