Mel Bochner presents language as a visual medium. His father was a sign painter, which may explain Bochner’s interest in the presentation and perception of words as devices for communication. Born in Pittsburgh, Bochner, now 66, moved to New York City after completing an undergraduate fine arts degree at Carnegie Institute of Technology.
In 1966, Bochner exhibited hundreds of Xeroxed copies of his drawings placed in binders on sculpture pedestals. This early series embodies the “work” aspect of the term “artwork”; it is surely a daunting task to “read” Bochner’s art, as it does not give instant visual gratification. However, it does beg intellectual engagement, and determined viewers can gain insights into Bochner’s dictum that “language offers a direct connection to the artist’s ideas.” Much of Bochner’s best art reflects on the experience of locating the meaning of art by transcribing that experience into words.
Bochner’s “portraits” of Minimalist and Post-minimal artists “portrays” them by listing adjectives and verbs shaped into visual patterns. Such works—sometimes referred to as Concrete Poetry—push Bochner’s notion that language can be an aesthetic vessel of meaning. Often, Bochner enters into an even more esoteric realm by creating philosophical, linguistic and mathematical theorems that further investigate the meaning of language. Such works purge the object from the artwork—exhibiting only concepts or ideas laid bare. You can see such works at Bochner’s retrospective on view now at the Art Institute (through January 7), where he was also recently the subject of a scholarly symposium.
Bochner currently makes “thesaurus” paintings on black velvet. One work, “Obscene,” presents synonyms for “obscenity” ranging from “$#@!!!%?*&…” to “Hot ‘n horny,” yet never quite arriving exactly at a specific definition of the obscene nor providing anything close to its shock. The velvet works are, however, the most tactile and visually engaging that Bochner has produced since the mid-sixties; colored oil paint seeps into its surrounding black velvet, giving the words a “feeling” all their own, external to their inherent meanings, akin to the earlier shaped poetry. These are currently on view at Rhona Hoffman gallery. (Jason Foumberg)
Mel Bochner shows at Rhona Hoffman Gallery, 118 North Peoria, (312)355-1990, through January 6, 2007.