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.
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'.
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.
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.
'[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
Mel Bochner in Conversation with Alexis Lowry and James Meyer, Dia:Beacon, 8 February 2020
Blah Blah Blah - Mel Bochner in His Own Words, MBLM Productions, Directed by Lizbeth Marano
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.