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“What I’m trying to do is make the painting physical enough and complex enough that I lose intellectual control. Getting inside the painting isn’t the problem, it’s how to get out of it.” – Mel Bochner
Mel Bochner is widely acknowledged as a leading figure in the development of Conceptual Art in New York in the 1960s and 1970s. He has produced paintings, installations and photography, but is probably best known for his text-based paintings in which he explores the relationship of painting and language and how we ascribe emotions to things which are devoid of them.
Born in 1940 in Pittsburgh, PA, Bochner grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home. After graduating with a BFA in 1962 from Carnegie Mellon, he worked as a guard at the Jewish Museum and later as a teacher at the School of Visual Art. Bochner felt stuck in the Abstract Expressionism which dominated art in the early 1960s and, like his fellow painters Eva Hesse, Robert Smithson and Donald Judd, began to experiment with new ideas to break away from it.
He had his first show in 1966. He collected photocopies of his friends’ working drawings, as well as a fabricator’s bill, into binders and displayed them on four pedestals. ‘Working Drawings And Other Visible Things On Paper Not Necessarily Meant To Be Viewed As Art’ is now regarded as seminal in the Conceptual Art movement.
Bochner has consistently pushed the boundaries of what the notion of an artwork is or should be. He developed several styles now commonly seen in many art exhibitions and was one of the earliest proponents of photographic documentation. Using temporary and performance works, the artist “created not so much a sculpture as a two-dimensional work about sculpture”. Bochner has also used gallery walls as the subject of his work, famously seen in his ‘Measurement’ installations during the 1960s, which visualised the exact dimensions of rooms used as exhibition spaces.
Bochner’s biggest artistic theme, however, is the use of language in art, examining the relationship between the two and the way that we construct and use them. His ‘Thesaurus’ painting series famously features a single word, sometimes accompanied by its synonyms, painted in rainbow-colored palettes. His seminal piece ‘Blah, Blah, Blah’ (2008) simply shows a single word repeated in painted capital letters. “My feeling was that there were ways of extending, or re-inventing visual experience, but that it was very important that it remain visual,” Bochner stated on his use of text in art. “The viewer should enter the idea through a visual or phenomenological experience rather than simply reading it.”
Mel Bochner’s works feature in collections around the world, including the Art Institute of Chicago to the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington.
Bochner lives and works in New York.
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