Mel Bochner

Artist in Focus
23 April - 20 May 2020
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For nearly 60 years Mel Bochner's intellectual and material analysis of painting, photography and sculpture has yielded ground-breaking works that...

Working Drawings and Other Visible Things on Paper Not Necessarily Meant to Be Viewed as Art, 1966, 4 identical looseleaf notebooks, each with 100 xerox copies of studio notes, working drawings, and diagrams collected and xeroxed by the artist, displayed on 4 sculpture stands, Dimensions Variable. Collection Museum of Modern Art, New York. Installation view: School of Visual Arts Gallery, 1966

For nearly 60 years Mel Bochner's intellectual and material analysis of painting, photography and sculpture has yielded ground-breaking works that explore the intersection of linguistic and visual representation. As a leading figure within the conceptual and post-minimal art movements of the 1960s, he experimented in complicating the relationship between image and language.

His pioneering introduction of the use of language into the visual, led Harvard University art historian Benjamin Buchloh to describe his 1966 Working Drawing Books as 'probably the first conceptual art exhibition'.

 

 

 

His early works dissected the art object and formed the 'analytical' groundwork so crucial to his investigation into the function of painting and its potential as a method of linguistic communication. Words and language as both subject and medium form the backbone of a practice fundamentally concerned with a continual oscillation between the verbal and the visual.

Installation views, Measurement Room: No Vantage Point, 1969/2019, Dia:Beacon, Beacon, NY, 2019 © Mel Bochner. Courtesy Dia Art Foundation, New York. Photo: Bill Jacobson Studio, New York  

In recent years his conceptual practice has developed in tandem with a lush, painterly practice that investigates the interrelation of form and meaning in the visual manifestation of language. With his word paintings Bochner explores the cognitive links between looking at and reading a painting.

The thesaurus paintings are an important part of this particular enquiry. With their focus on text and its interpretation, these works re-imagine language as a form of pictorial expression. His use of colour sometimes affirms the language it is painting and at other times ignores it, intentionally avoiding system and pattern.

Out of the thesaurus paintings, Bochner developed a new body of work that continued to track the artist's ongoing fascination with language and colour. Beginning with the phrase 'blah blah blah' - a linguistic shorthand in the English language that acts as a substitute for words in contexts where the content is felt to be too tedious or lengthy to recapitulate - he gravitated towards another metonym: 'ha ha ha'.

Artwork: Mel Bochner, Blah, Blah, Blah / I've Had It Up To Here / $#!+, 2019

Mel Bochner

Blah, Blah, Blah / I've Had It Up To Here / $#!+, 2019
Oil on velvet
224.8 x 227.3 cm (88 1/2 x 89 1/2 in.) in 3 parts
Courtesy of the artist and Simon Lee Gallery

Performing a similar function to 'blah', 'ha' is an onomatopoeia that indicates laughter and has gained currency in today's digitally-advanced society, as methods of communication become ever more succinct. With this phrase, Bochner also plays with the sincerity of his endeavour, directing a humour-filled nod at the legacy of conceptual art he has so positively shaped. 

Artwork: Mel Bochner, Ha Ha Ha, 2018

Mel Bochner

Ha Ha Ha, 2018
Oil on velvet
161.9 x 227.3 cm (63 3/4 x 89 1/2 in.) in 3 parts
Courtesy of the artist and Simon Lee Gallery
Artwork: Mel Bochner, Ha Ha Ha, 2018

Mel Bochner

Ha Ha Ha, 2018
Oil on velvet
190.5 x 227.3 cm (75 x 89 1/2 in.) in 3 parts
Courtesy of the artist and Simon Lee Gallery

Installation views, Carnegie International, 57th Edition, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA, 2018
© Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh. Photo: Bryan Conley

A new series of the word paintings marks a radical departure for Bochner. His inclusion in the 2018 Carnegie International gave rise to a new body of work that combined his signature textual interventions with a largely monochrome palette. Installed throughout the museum the site-specific series accosted visitors with idiomatic, sometimes caustic, expressions from Bochner's personal phrase dictionary. In ensuing works, Bochner explores the lexicon of the Carnegie International paintings but in a riot of colour, discarding his own strict formal protocol in favour of a liberated approach to form and meaning.

 

 

Artwork: Mel Bochner, It Goes Without Saying, 2019

Mel Bochner

It Goes Without Saying, 2019
Oil on velvet
74.9 x 227.3 cm (29 1/2 x 89 1/2 in.)
Courtesy of the artist and Simon Lee Gallery
Artwork: Mel Bochner, Mistakes Were Made, 2019

Mel Bochner

Mistakes Were Made, 2019
Oil on velvet
74.9 x 227.3 cm (29 1/2 x 89 1/2 in.)
Courtesy of the artist and Simon Lee Gallery
Artwork: Mel Bochner, I Forget What I Forgot, 2019

Mel Bochner

I Forget What I Forgot, 2019
Oil on velvet
74.9 x 227.3 cm (29 1/2 x 89 1/2 in.)
Courtesy of the artist and Simon Lee Gallery
 
'[Bochner's] chosen expressions are meant to reflect, alternately, the rage and the disingenuousness of public speech in these dire times. The artist has a gift for identifying platitudes or expostulations that, in being isolated, become transformed-ambiguous or strange. For Bochner, painting's material capacity for erasure, reversal, and other manipulations serves this condition ... the procedure is a remarkable method through which language and painting merge. In this way, painting, like language, also achieves an altered state'.
- Jeffrey Weiss, 'Mel Bochner', Artforum, February 2020 
 
Artwork: Mel Bochner, Bozo, 2019

Mel Bochner

Bozo, 2019
Oil on velvet
205.7 x 228.6 cm (80 1/4 x 89 1/2 in.) in 3 parts
Courtesy of Simon Lee Gallery
SELECTED PRESS

Artforum, Mel Bochner, 2020

The New York Times Style Magazine, A Conceptual Art Pioneer Who Doesn't Mince Words, 2019

Hyperallergic, Drivel, Drool, Babble, Blabber: An Evening with Mel Bochner, 2016 

The New Yorker, Mel Bochner's Thesaurus Paintings, 2014

 

Videos
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Mel Bochner in Conversation with Alexis Lowry and James Meyer, Dia:Beacon, 8 February 2020

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Blah Blah Blah - Mel Bochner in His Own Words, MBLM Productions, Directed by Lizbeth Marano

About Mel Bochner

Mel Bochner was born in Pittsburgh, PA in 1940 and lives and works in New York, NY. In 2019 Bochner unveiled a new, large-scale work from his Measurement series at Dia:Beacon, Beacon, NY and in 2018 he participated in the 57th  Edition  of  the  Carnegie  International,  Pittsburgh,  PA.  His  work  has  been  the  subject  of  many  solo  museum exhibitions, most recently at Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, OH (2018); Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, South Hadley, MA (2015); Jewish Museum, New York, NY (2014); Whitechapel Gallery, London, UK (2012), which travelled to  Haus  der  Kunst,  Munich,  Germany  (2013)  and  Fundação  de  Serralves,  Porto,  Portugal  (2013)  and  National Gallery of Art, Washington  D.C. (2011). His work is included in major public and private collections internationally, including  Tate,  London,  UK;  Centre  Georges  Pompidou,  Paris,  France;  Städel  Museum,  Frankfurt,  Germany;  Musée d'art  contemporain  de  Montréal,  Montreal,  Canada;  Whitney  Museumof  American  Art,  New  York,  NY;  Museum  of Modern  Art, New  York,  NY;  National  Gallery  of  Art,  Washington  D.C.;  Carnegie  Museum  of  Art,  Pittsburgh,  PA; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA.

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