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John Chamberlain: Sculptures at Inverleith House

    In 2016 we awarded a grant to Inverleith House, part of the Royal Botanical Garden, Edinburgh, enabling them to stage the first exhibition of John Chamberlain's works in a UK public gallery. The exhibition ran from 25 July to 4 October 2015 with outdoor sculptures on display until 9 December 2015.

    John Chamberlain: Sculptures was the first exhibition by the legendary American artist John Chamberlain (1927–2012) ever to be staged in a public gallery in the UK. It featured 30 major works made throughout the artist’s career, from 1965 to 2011, on loan from public and private collections in America and Europe and was curated and organized by Paul Nesbitt and Chloe Reith (Curator of Exhibitions, Inverleith House).

    At Inverleith House, the exhibition comprised Chamberlain’s brightly coloured sculptures assembled from salvaged car parts (the earliest dating from 1965), his Sockets series (made from painted, crushed coffee tins), works in paper and Plexiglas and his influential Stuffed Dog series of radical, influential foam sculptures. 19 sculptures, on loan from the Dia Art Foundation in New York, were exhibited for the first time outside New York and were a revelation to audiences.

    In the Gallery’s lower-ground floor we presented a continuous screening of Chamberlain’s remarkable cult film The Secret Life of Hernando Cortez (1969), featuring Warhol stars Taylor Mead and Ultraviolet as well as Chamberlain himself.

    Outdoors, four of Chamerlain’s monumental most recent sculptures in pink, green and bronze aluminium foil astonished visitors as they encountered them, considerately sited, between trees and walkways close to Inverleith House.

    The exhibition was accompanied by an innovative and vibrant public engagement programme which included regular curators tours of the exhibition, talks by scholars (including Dr. Jon Wood) and a series of free drop-in workshops for families and children which provided the opportunity to make sculptures in aluminium foil and foam, under the guidance of Roween Suess (Curatorial Trainee, Inverleith House).

    The exhibition was universally praised, by critics and public alike. No other exhibition at Inverleith House has been more popular with the general visitor and the exhibition received excellent widespread media coverage with glowing full-page reviews in The Financial Times ‘Life and Arts’ and ‘Pick of the Week’ features, The Independent (5 Stars), The Guardian (Pick of The Week) and many other publications and online reviews. It was also featured on BBC2’s The Culture Show, presented by Alastair Sooke, for their Edinburgh Festival Edition.

    The exhibition was attended by over 300,000 visitors.

    Inverleith House was successful in raising all of the necessary funds to present the exhibition, but the award from the Henry Moore Foundation played an essential role in attracting further income and in its own right.

    I believe that the exhibition made a highly significant contribution to a re-evaluation of John Chamberlain (especially in the UK) from a legendary sculptor who used metal car parts, to a truly great artist whose consistent genius found expression through everything he touched.

    The exhibition could not have happened without the generosity of the Henry Moore Foundation and I wish to extend my personal thanks and that of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh to the Grants Committee and everyone involved.

    Paul Nesbitt
    Director and Curator of Inverleith House
    Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

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