For more than 45 years Mel Bochner has explored the intersections of linguistic and visual representation. As one of the pioneers of conceptual art during the ‘60s, Bochner developed a body of work that causes us to read and see simultaneously, to “think” as we look. Mel Bochner has taken an unusual turn toward painterly expressiveness during the past two decades.
By Dimitris Lempesis
Photo: Peter Freeman Inc. Archive
Mel Bochner presents his solo exhibition “Voices” at Peter Freeman Inc. in New York. The use of words as sources for painting stems from Bochner’s interest in philosophy on the one hand and humor and popular culture on the other. In his new work Bochner assumes various voices from the super-serious to the absurd. A strong vein of irony and humor flows through them. His paintings are an important part of this particular enquiry. Word chains intertwine painting and language using color. They start with one word and the rest of the painting is made up of synonyms pulled from a thesaurus and listed from top left to bottom right in lines as on a page, the register descending dramatically into slang and expletives. His use of color sometimes affirms the language it is painting and at other times ignores it, intentionally avoiding color systems and patterns. These paintings make us think about the acts of reading and looking, and representation and abstraction, and how they cross over. The thesaurus painting is just one of many rationalizing systems that Bochner uses to question and explore our irrational trust in language and the world around us. Bochner’s use of the Thesaurus was pursued with increasing interest following the release of its latest. For Bochner, the thesaurus is “A warehouse for words”. Bochner uses word games, incongruities, and even visual slapstick to draw the viewer into linguistic, phenomenological, and social puzzles. Words and phrases are scattered across the whole surface. They are often painted over each other, in many cases obliterating themselves in a palimpsest of illegibility. The paintings of the exhibition were completed in the two years since his retrospective at the Jewish Museum, are for the most part monochromes, predominately all red or all black, with the text painted in white. Words and phrases are scattered across the whole surface. They are often painted over each other, in many cases obliterating themselves in a palimpsest of illegibility. Some paintings simply repeat a single word, like “gobbledygook”, over and over again, rendering the text itself gobbledygook.
Info: Peter Freeman, Inc., 140 Grand Street, New York, Duration: 19/4-10/6/17, Days & Hours: Tue-Sat 10:00-18:00, www.peterfreemaninc.com