Mel Bochner has a penchant for word games. For the past decade or so he has been making paintings that resemble brightly colored thesaurus entries. Lists of synonyms (“Amazing! Awesome! Breathtaking! . . .”) are rendered in block letters against vibrant backgrounds. Though most of the work on view here dates from the last two decades, a through line is established to Bochner’s Conceptual work of the 1960s, in part through the re-creation of a 1970 work for which he scrawled the phrase “Language is Not Transparent” in a field of drippy black paint applied directly to the gallery wall. Bochner’s paintings are cerebral—students of Wittgenstein would have a field day—but the artist seems equally concerned with creating richly textured surfaces and complex color combinations that span nearly the entire visible spectrum. The act of viewing encompasses both reading and looking, as the painterly qualities of Bochner’s work suggest a sensual ground for thought.
“Mel Bochner: Proposition and Process: A Theory of Sculpture (1968-1973)” quietly transports the viewer to another time and place. At the time, Minimalism and Structuralism were all the rage in New York, and cerebral, anti-object Conceptual artwork ruled the day. Bochner’s humble sculptures feature subtle arrangements of mundane objects like small stones and real potted palms, a step ladder, and numerals etched in white chalk on the walls and floor. The works seem startlingly of-the-moment as the artist demonstrates how intellectual rigor still trumps art-world materialism and gratuitous sensation.