Mel Bochner is widely accepted as one of the leading figures in the conceptual art movement in New York during the 1960s and 1970s.
Bochner has produced paintings, installations and photography, and organised Working Drawings in 1966, described as “probably the first truly conceptual exhibition”’ by art historian Benjamin Buchloh. However, he is perhaps best known for his text-based paintings, and his pioneering use of language within the visual arts.
Bochner’s works now feature in collections around the world, from 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, to name but a few.
After nearly 50 years, Bochner continues to live and work in New York.
After earning his Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) from Carnegie Mellon University in 1962, Bochner studied philosophy at Northwestern University near Chicago. Bochner formally studied under the likes of Douglas Wilson and Wilfred Readio, though his own artistic style would show more influence stemming from the works of Clyfford Still and Jean Dubuffet.
In 1964, Bochner then settled in New York during a time of radical social change. Modern art was also undergoing a transformation, and painting was increasingly becoming seen as an outmoded medium. A new generation of artists, including the likes of Eva Hesse, Donald Judd and Robert Smithson, looked for ways to break from abstract expressionism which dominated the art scene at the time.
Bochner experimented with ideas which formed as a direct reaction to abstract expressionism, and also produced influential critical and theoretical essays on art, following on from his early career as an art critic.
His 1966 show at the School of Visual Arts, ‘Working Drawings And Other Visible Things On Paper Not Necessarily Meant To Be Viewed As Art’ is thought to be a seminal show in the conceptual art movement. Bochner made photocopies of his friends’ working drawings, as well as a fabricator’s bill, and collected them into binders to display on pedestals.
Starting in the 1960s, Bochner developed several styles now commonly seen in many art exhibitions, such as photographic documentation of temporary and performance works. According to artist and critic Richard Kalina, along with Joseph Kosuth and Bruce Nauman, Bochner was one of the earliest proponents of photo-documentation work. Using this style, the artist “created not so much a sculpture as a two-dimensional work about sculpture.”
Bochner 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.
His biggest artistic theme, however, is the use of language in art. His work has consistently examined the way in which art and language relate to one another, and the way that we construct and understand both forms.
Bochner began painting in the late 1970s, and his paintings range from extremely colorful works containing words to works more clearly connected to the conceptual art he pioneered. Bochner’s ‘Thesaurus’ painting series famously feature 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.”
If you are looking to view or even buy Mel Bochner art, please contact Maddox Gallery and speak with one of our Sotheby’s-trained art consultants.