“No beginning. It’s all a continuum.”
Krakow Witkin Gallery announces an exhibition of large-scale silkscreens that Mel Bochner has made over the past five years. For these new works, Bochner has photographed the Plexiglas blocks with which he has made his monoprints and then printed those photos as multi-color screenprints. The imagery shows not only the texts, but the scrapes, chips and imperfections in the well-worn blocks. Printing this imagery with high contrast color juxtapositions, Bochner explores the relationship between the visual and the textual (when and how one moves between viewing, reading and deciphering a work of art). With no one fixed voice, he has made pieces that are confounding, confusing, dynamic, and humorous simultaneously.
As a bit of history, in 2001, Bochner began a series of works engaging everyday speech by using synonyms derived from the latest edition of Roget’s Thesaurus. Bochner was inspired by the Thesaurus’ then-new permissiveness to broaden his linguistic references juxtaposing proper with vernacular, formal against vulgar, high against low. Twenty-one years later, and still drawn from Roget’s Thesaurus, as well as dictionaries of slang, the language in the recent works can vary from the casual to crude and can simultaneously be read as defeatist and elated, all while engaging social issues of the day.
Roberta Smith wrote in a New York Times review, “The new Bochners unleash something malicious, sharp and funny that has always lurked beneath the surface, conveying the rage of life while maintaining the artist’s characteristic surface of elegance, intellect and formalism. In a sense they are Expressionistic works, filled with pain, and grinning and bearing it.”
Simultaneous with the exhibition, the Art Institute of Chicago has just opened a major retrospective of Bochner’s drawings. It is on view through August.
Mel Bochner [born 1940] is recognized as one of the leading figures in the development of Conceptual art in New York in the 1960s and 1970s. Emerging at a time when painting was increasingly discussed as outmoded, Bochner became part of a new generation of artists which also included Eva Hesse, Donald Judd, and Robert Smithson – artists who, like Bochner, were looking at ways of breaking with Abstract Expressionism and traditional compositional devices. His pioneering introduction of the use of language in the visual, led Harvard University art historian Benjamin Buchloh to describe his 1966 Working Drawings as ‘probably the first truly conceptual exhibition.’ Over the course of a career that has spanned nearly six decades, Mel Bochner has been at the forefront of Conceptual Art, producing thought-provoking work in nearly every medium: drawing, painting, prints, photography, sculpture, books, and installations.