The sculptor Robert Chambers is known for wild work and has a sort of fabled reputation in Miami, where he was born and has resided for much of his life. Other than a long list of impressive CV items—a resident at Fabric, work collected by MoMA, now head of FIU’s sculpture department—it’s his stunning sculptures that garner the most attention. Motorcycles, 12-foot obsidian rocks, John Deere tractors, and hurricane debris are just some of the materials Chambers has used. His new show, Iron Oar, at Emerson Dorsch is no less ambitious, but perhaps a little more subtle.
Subtle, however, may not be the word for a salvaged battleship buoy: a giant metal ball that rolls seemingly precariously across a track on the gallery floor. Chambers, you see, is not your average figurative sculptor. An engineering mind is what enables the work, and in the metal ball (which visitors are allowed to push) are many, many oiled BBs, which help lower its center of gravity and allow it to stay course. Despite the piece’s heft, it is calm, serene, like the other works on display.
One such work is the small-scale recreation of a public installation that never got realized. Originally intended at 200 feet tall and 100 wide, Ryoanji Sky Mural, seen above, was meant to recreate the delicate geometric arrangement of the much-studied rock garden of the Ryoan-ji Zen temple in Kyoto, Japan. It does the same at this exhibition, but at about a tenth of the original vision. Other works sit throughout the gallery, which were made in the foundry of the university he works at, and have a similar sort of voluminous tranquility.
To use a dorky science metaphor: a centripetal force in Chambers’ practice is a dedication to physics and material knowledge, how things work and the laws that govern this work. But the centrifugal force for the art is playfulness, a sense of mischief. Having grown up with a mom who was a painter and sculptor and a dad who was a cellular and molecular physiologist, it’s perhaps easy to attribute where he got his skill. Less easy is knowing how he can balance two massive callings and make something fun out of it.