Word art

Now at the Jewish Museum in New York (through September 21st), an exhibition of Mel Bochner‘s recent conceptual art. From the NYT on May 2nd, in “Secret Power of Synonyms: Mel Bochner Turns Up the Volume in ‘Strong Language’ ” by Ken Johnson:

Words have been the subjects and primary constituents of the enigmatic yet acerbically provocative paintings Mel Bochner has been creating over the past 12 years. “Mel Bochner: Strong Language,” an elegantly produced exhibition at the Jewish Museum, gives them their due and traces their roots back to text-based works that Mr. Bochner created in the ’60s and early ’70s, when he was one of New York’s pre-eminent Conceptual artists.

A Bochner theme from then and now: Language Is Not Transparent, in several versions in different media (rubber stamps, chalk on a wall) from 1969-70 and then in 1999, in oil on paper:


Johnson’s article continues:

Mr. Bochner wasn’t alone in his preoccupation with language then. Carl Andre, Richard Serra, Robert Smithson and many other avant-gardists at the time made word art. Also, like Donald Judd, Robert Morris and Smithson, Mr. Bochner wrote critical and theoretical essays with a rigorous, analytic fervor determined to extinguish sloppy, sentimental thinking and writing about art.

The new paintings still revolve around philosophical issues that were dear to the Minimalists and the Conceptualists of the ’60s. The way they flip viewers back and forth between seeing visual forms and reading verbal texts prompts rumination about different modes of perceptual and cognitive consciousness.

They feature lists of synonyms, many gleaned from Roget’s Thesaurus, and often colloquial and vulgar ones. While some are made with a brushy touch, others are neatly lettered in juicy colors and in horizontal rows on flat, colored backgrounds, like Modernist stripe paintings.

Two synonym works: Amazing (2011) and the rougher Scoundrel (2010):



From another review, ” ‘Mel Bochner: Strong Language’ at the Jewish Museum” by Maika Pollack, May 28th in GalleristNY:

There are inky blue oil on canvas paintings rendered to look as if made from ballpoint pen ink (Blah, Blah, Blah, 2008) and colorful word paintings like Amazing (2011) composed from synonyms found in Roget’s Thesaurus (“wow,” “mind-blowing!”). The paintings are large, and their text takes the soft shape and bright colors of children’s refrigerator magnets. They exhibit a gloopy yet detached materiality that suggests the droll banality of Warhol. (Some deal with slurs for Jews—Mr. Bochner is himself Jewish.)

And some are right in your face, for example Dollar Hash Exclamation Plus (2011), with SHIT spelled out in obscenicons (an image that has appeared as an on-line joke on several occasions, though not so elegantly executed):


The book for the exhibition: Mel Bochner: Strong Language (Jewish Museum) by Norman L. Kleeblatt (2014).

(Other “items that challenge the borders of categories in the world of art, literature, and humor” on ths blog, here.)


One Response to “Word art”

  1. Chung-chieh Shan Says:

    Thanks for the lovely collection! I was also moved by learning about Eduard Ovčáček recently in Lyon. He seems to have applied typography to political activism, and applied intonation to typography.

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