John Chamberlain and the Rand Corporation

John Chamberlain Rand piece, signed original typed and bound by the artist.

John Chamberlain.
RAND Piece.
Los Angeles: Self-published, 1971.
35 8 1/2 x 11 pages in tranparent orange folder.

Most people know John Chamberlain for the exquisite crumpled cars parts he produced for over 50 years. I discovered this very unusual, and rare, work of his on the Web entirely by accident about eight years ago, amazed by its conceptual, relational quality. I thought about it again recently in the course of my ongoing research on art + economics, asking whether, if artists worked more “normally” like, and with, the rest of the world, they might be better understood and financially supported. Chamber’s Rand Piece and all it represents about Chamberlain’s participation in the historic L. A. Country Museum’s Art + Technology program suggests otherwise. In fact, it shows just how fraught the place of artists and art can be if they are put in close proximity with the things they want to call as they see.

“The RAND Corporation was considered by many, especially on the left, to be a sinister organization populated by the best deep-thinkers the military industrial complex could buy. It is in this context that Chamberlain’s piece resonates. His approach, which was intentionally confounding, emphasizes the limits of technology and human understanding and thus frames the RAND Corporation’s blandly authoritative intellectualism as hubris.”

Pamela Lee in her book Chronophobia: On Time in the Art of the 1960s, [MIT ISBN:
978-0-262-12260-3, now out of print] explains:

“An especially telling case involved John Chamberlain’s residency at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica. Established in 1948, the RAND Corporation was the prototypical postwar think tank: a nonprofit organization devoted “to further and promote scientific, educational and charitable purposes, all for the public welfare and security of the United States.” Following its own bulletin, the Corporation works toward these purposes through an extensive program of research and original investigation in the physical and social sciences. Although the program places special emphasis on interdisciplinary, policy-oriented studies, it includes theoretical research within such diverse fields as economics, mathematics, geophysics, nuclear physics, electronics, computer science, aeronautics, astronautics, linguistics, sociology, political science, medicine, education and many others. In the past this program has been oriented mainly towards scientific analysis of important problems of national defense.

“RAND’s collaboration with Chamberlain was unhappy to say the least. Chamberlain was approached by Tuchman as late as 1969, but the artist was eager to participate in the program because, as he reasoned, “I’m initially interested in anything I don’t know about.”

Like many of his peers, Chamberlain’s preliminary meetings with industry proved unproductive. He discussed the possibilities of a film project, perhaps with Ampex, RCA or CBS, but when neither these nor other proposals seemed viable (one of which included an “olfactory-stimulus-response” multiple), he was ultimately paired with RAND, then already working with Larry Bell.

“Chamberlain’s project for RAND exhibited little of the high-tech paraphernalia of many other artists involved in LACMA’s program. Granted office space and secretarial support by RAND, Chamberlain’s proposals—cutting off the phones for one day, for example, or dissolving the corporation itself—were of a rigorously conceptual (that is to say, unfeasible) bent. Such ideas met with little excitement or, rather, acceptance, by many of RAND’s denizens, and the distaste was reciprocal. As his residency continued, Chamberlain discovered his RAND colleagues to be impossibly ‘uptight’ and ‘very 1953’ and resistant to the line of questioning his proposals suggested. As if to interrogate his own technological sophistication, the artist posed a series of queries in keeping with the concerns of the corporation itself. ‘What do I know about weather modification?’ he asked rhetorically. ‘What do I know about cloud formations? What do I know about the war in Vietnam? What do I know about the psychology of reflexes in New York City when faced with a police car?’

Instead of pursuing such topics, Chamberlain saw the use value of exploiting humor in his ‘collaboration,’ tweaking the rituals of bureaucratic culture in the process. For three days he screened his film The Secret Life of Hernando Cortez during the company’s lunch hour. With Warhol ‘Superstar’ Ultraviolet and poet Taylor Mead romping about in trees in various states of undress, the movie seemed to confirm for RAND’s employees the worst clichés about artists in general. Following the screening, Chamberlain distributed a cryptic memo to all consultants at RAND in a gesture that at once pays tribute to and lambastes the endless paper trail of the corporate environment (figure I.4). The mimeographed sheet reads: ‘I’m searching for ANSWERS. Not questions! If you have any, will you please fill in below, and send them to me in Room 1138.’

“The answers spoke volumes to the divide between Chamberlain’s conceptual leanings and RAND’s technological methods. Clearly the  exercise had won Chamberlain no supporters; it fact, it produced the exact opposite effect. “The answer is to terminate Chamberlain,” one rejoinder states, and that was the least of it. There was no shortage of vitriolic responses, a partial list of which reads:

You’re sick!

While you were up in the Tree in your love scene, you should have STAYED.

Quit Wasting RAND Paper and Time.

The Air Force needs thinkers—where do you fit in?

The world has moved up a level. They now call stag movies “ART.”


An artist in residence is a waste of money.”

Above extensively quotes: Chronophobia: On Time in the Art of the 1960s, by Pamela M. Lee, pages 17, 18, 19, now out of print, but fortunately available on Google Books.


This artist’s book is for sale here in the new Reading Art shop on Abebooks.


Thirty-five loose 8 1/2 x 11″ bond sheets printed offset, recto only, in a translucent fluorescent orange plastic report cover with a blue plastic clamp spine (as issued), no illustrations. “Rand Piece” is the printed form of John Chamberlain’s contribution to the historic 1971 Los Angeles County Museum of Art exhibition “Art and Technology”. It consists of excerpted responses by employees of the noted Southern California think-tank The Rand Corporation to a questionnaire submitted by the artist. The piece was mounted on the walls during the exhibition, with Chamberlain subsequently self-publishing an extremely limited edition of these responses to be distributed to the Rand participants.

For further details, see the catalog “Art and Technology” by Maurice Tuchman. Edition size is not known, but surviving copies are truly rare. A most handsome example of this elusive conceptual document whose plastic binder remains remarkably fresh BOLDLY SIGNED by John Chamberlain in purple ink on the title page at the time of publication. (from Abebooks)

More about the Art + Technology project on the Fondation-Langlois website: Tuchman, Maurice. — A report on the art and technology program of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1967-1971. — New York: Viking, 1971. — 387 p. — ISBN 670133728.

“RAND Piece was mounted on the walls during the LACMA Art and Technology exhibition and Chamberlain subsequently self-published a very small edition of them to be distributed among the RAND participants. Surviving copies are truly rare.” [source]

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