Aalto + Chamberlain

Aalto + Chamberlain
November 21, 2019–January 18, 2020
101 Spring Street
New York, NY

Judd Foundation is pleased to present Aalto + Chamberlain, an exhibition of furniture by Alvar Aalto and paintings by John Chamberlain on the ground floor of 101 Spring Street in New York. The exhibition presents works from the Architecture Office, one of Donald Judd’s living and working spaces in Marfa, Texas.

In 1990, Judd acquired the Glascock Building in Marfa, a two-story building from the late nineteenth century which he designated as his Architecture Office. Judd used the ground floor as the office and the second floor as guest housing in which he installed paintings by Chamberlain, furniture by Aalto, and furniture of his own design. For Judd, the making and viewing of art were coextensive with the other activities of living. By placing Aalto furniture and Chamberlain paintings together, Judd created what was for him a natural situation for viewing art.

The distinctive paint which Chamberlain used to make the paintings exhibited in Aalto + Chamberlain is composed of successive layers of transparent lacquer with reflective flake.  To this surface, he then attached two right-angled metal bars. Of particular interest to Chamberlain was the multitude of optical effects produced by these works. As he recounted to Julie Sylvester in John Chamberlain: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Sculpture 1954-1985, “There was the field, there were two painted bars and then two chrome bars that stood up. But if you counted everything going all the way across, you could count up to thirty: thirty different changes, thirty different notations—how the light struck, how the light changed the field or changed the painted bar, then the bar itself and the reflection, and so on.”1

Chamberlain made a number of paintings using lacquer and reflective flake between 1963 and 1965, including a group of eight measuring four by four feet. First exhibited at Leo Castelli Gallery in January 1965, Judd purchased six of the eight paintings, initially installing the works on the fourth floor of 101 Spring Street and later in the two-story building at La Mansana de Chinati/The Block in Marfa. Whereas Judd installed the paintings positioned as a square, per Chamberlain they could also be rotated and installed at forty-five degrees. For this exhibition the paintings will be installed at a diagonal. This is the first exhibition of the six paintings as a group since 1965, presented with Conrad, a seventh painting from the same series, on loan from the collection of the Dia Art Foundation.

In addition to the paintings by Chamberlain, this exhibition includes examples of Aalto furniture collected by Judd that can be used by visitors. An avid collector of Aalto furniture, Judd placed dozens of pieces ranging from the standard to the specific across his spaces in New York, Marfa, and Europe. Judd also installed rarer examples of Aalto furniture from this same time-period, including a wardrobe that was designed for the Paimio Sanitorium, one of Alvar and his wife Aino’s most important early buildings.

Furniture by Finnish architect Aalto evolved as an integral part of his practice, “deriving from his desire for a comprehensive design conceived as a total concept from townscape down to the door knob.”2 Aalto designed furniture for particular buildings with notable attention paid to function. As he wrote in 1954, “My furniture is seldom, if ever, the result of professional design work. Almost without exception, I have done them as part of an architectonic wholeness, in the mixed society of public buildings, aristocratic residences and workers’ cottages, as an accompaniment to architecture. It has been great fun designing furniture in this way.”3

In 2018, Judd Foundation began an extensive restoration of the Architecture Office. As part of the restoration, the Foundation completed conservation treatment of the Chamberlain paintings, which are to be reinstalled on a permanent basis on the second floor. This exhibition results from and celebrates these efforts by showing the work of Chamberlain and Aalto in combination.

Public programs for Aalto + Chamberlain will be presented in partnership with the Finnish Cultural Institute in New York and the John Chamberlain Estate in January 2020.

Aalto + Chamberlain is made possible with support from Artek.

1  Sylvester, Julie (ed.), John Chamberlain: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Sculpture 1954-1985 (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1986), 18.
2 Pallasmaa, Juhani (ed.), Alvar Aalto Furniture (Helsinki: Museum of Finnish Architecture, 1984), 10.
3 Alvar Aalto’s introduction to the catalogue of his exhibition at the NK department store in Stockholm in 1954. Reprinted in: Pallasmaa, Juhani (ed.), Alvar Aalto Furniture(Helsinki: Museum of Finnish Architecture, 1984), 9.
Jump to About Alvar Aalto

About Alvar Aalto

During his long and prolific career, Alvar Aalto (1898-1976) designed buildings for almost all key public institutions, as well as standardized housing and private homes. One of the co-founders of Artek, Aalto is recognized today as one of the great masters of modern architecture. Aalto’s architecture is distinctively Finnish, strongly individual, and marked by a warm humanity. His buildings derive their aesthetic character from their dynamic relationship with their natural surroundings, their human scale, superbly executed details, unique treatment of materials, and ingenious use of lighting. Aalto began designing furnishings as a natural extension of his architectural thinking. Artek was set up in 1935 to market and sell his and his wife Aino’s furniture, lighting, and textiles, particularly on international markets. Through his innovations in form and line, Alvar Aalto’s name has also become important in the history of design.

Artek was founded in Helsinki in 1935 by four young idealists: Alvar and Aino Aalto, Maire Gullichsen, and Nils-Gustav Hahl. Their goal was “to sell furniture and to promote a modern culture of living by exhibitions and other educational means.” In keeping with the radical spirit of its founders, Artek today remains an innovative player in the world of modern design, developing new products at the intersection of design, architecture, and art. The Artek collection consists of furniture, lighting, and accessories designed by Finnish masters and leading international designers. It stands for clarity, functionality, and poetic simplicity.

Jump to About John Chamberlain

About John Chamberlain

During his lifetime, John Chamberlain was perhaps best known for his distinctive metal sculptures constructed from discarded automobile-body parts and other industrial detritus, which he began making in the late 1950s. While freely experimenting with other materials—from galvanized steel and paper bags to Plexiglas and urethane foam—he consistently returned to metal car components, which he humorously termed “art supplies.” His singular method of putting these elements together led to his inclusion in the paradigmatic exhibition “The Art of Assemblage,” at the Museum of Modern Art in 1961, where his work was shown alongside modern masters such as Marcel Duchamp and Pablo Picasso. Chamberlain’s focus on discovered or spontaneous correlations between materials has prompted the interpretation of his work as a kind of three-dimensional Abstract Expressionism.

John Chamberlain was born in 1927 in Rochester, Indiana, and died in 2011 in New York. He attended the Art Institute of Chicago from 1951 to 1952, and Black Mountain College, North Carolina, from 1955 to 1956. Chamberlain’s first retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (1971) was followed by more than one hundred solo exhibitions, including John Chamberlain: Sculpture, An Extended Exhibition, Dia Art Foundation, New York (1982–85); John Chamberlain: Sculpture, 1954–1985, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1986); John Chamberlain, Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Germany (1991);  John Chamberlain: Sculpture, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1996); John Chamberlain: Foam sculptures (1966–79); Photographs (1989–2004), Chinati Foundation, Marfa (2005–06); John Chamberlain: American Tableau, The Menil Collection, Houston (2009); John Chamberlain: CURVATUREROMANCE, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich (2011);  Choices, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2012); John Chamberlain: It Ain’t Cheap, Dan Flavin Art Institute, Dia Art Foundation, New York (2014); and John Chamberlain, Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh (2015). His work has been included in numerous international survey exhibitions, including Bienal de São Paulo (1961, 1994); Biennale di Venezia (1964); Whitney Biennial (1973, 1987); and Documenta 7 (1982).

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Exhibition Brochure

Aalto + Chamberlain

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Exhibition Talk

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Aalto + Chamberlain is made possible with support from Artek.