Mel Bochner, considered by many to be the godfather of text-induced conceptualism, insisted that he never wanted to be seen as a formalist. If taken too seriously, his pieces on language can seem like an impenetrable combination of word formulas, math charts, color-coded lists, groupings and color studies that read more like excruciating word puzzles than pieces fit for a commercial gallery. The new show at the Rhona Hoffman gallery, “Blah, Blah, Blah,” revisits themes that have occupied Bochner for decades in a more palpable, if not more visually appeasing way.
In a large, banner-like installation, a long row of velvet canvases stretches on the gallery wall painted with words that feel like a revenge on language. Recall that Bochner’s last showing from this series of oil-on-velvet at Rhona Hoffman Gallery included thesaurus lists, but here he’s stripped the phrasing to a sardonic “Blah, Blah, Blah,” filling the galleries with a silent, absurd chant. Multiples of smaller black-velvet canvases echo the words in various combinations of complementary colors with nearly identical word compositions. Luminous in color and battered in black they appear and disappear into the canvas—some look like they are dripping thick with paint others like they were smeared with a butter knife. From afar they resemble both, a child’s game and a revenge on Bochner’s earlier works on Wittgenstein’s language theory.
Though much more “aesthetic” than the playful thesaurus wheel portraits exhibited at the Art Institute some years back, for Bochner, whose work has always guarded against the “bewitchment of intelligence by the means of beautiful words,” this certainly is his closest draw to an enticing language. In the minimum that could pass for communicative language, “Blah, Blah, Blah” fills the gallery walls with enchanting chatter. (Beatrice Smigasiewicz)
Through June 26 at Rhona Hoffman Gallery, 118 N. Peoria