Critics’ Picks

Mel Bochner, Blah, Blah, Blah, 2010, oil on velvet diptych, 63 x 94” overall.

Mel Bochner, Blah, Blah, Blah, 2010, oil on velvet diptych, 63 x 94” overall.


Mel Bochner

Peter Freeman | 59 rue Quincampoix
59 rue Quincampoix
May 29–July 31, 2010

Text-art pioneer Mel Bochner has begun making paintings with a hydraulic press, a new process whose results––elegant and aggressive––further complicate his career-long reflection on the inefficacy of language. In the 1970s Bochner declared “Language is not transparent.” Now, formally, that’s literal. On black velvet grounds, the press imprints letters in thick, multicolored oils for a Thiebaud-icing-meets-Richter-squeegee effect. The letters’ edges stay crisp but bleed into the velvet, creating a tie-dye-like atmosphere that emphasizes the juicy physicality of the text.

This exhibition is divided between his “Thesaurus” paintings, which list synonyms devolving into obscenity (COMPLAIN becomes THROW A SHIT FIT), and paintings that repeat the phrase BLAH, BLAH, BLAH. This is familiar Bochner territory, but the printing technique ups the impact. The dense paint and tacky-sumptuous velvet somehow embody the weight of the press with a strange intensity; earlier works in a careful sign-painter’s hand seem reserved by comparison. Paradoxically, the removal of the hand makes the work more confrontational.

These paintings shout from the walls, and the installation suggests an argument––“Thesaurus” paintings on one side, “Blah”s on the other. A Jenny Holzer–esque horizontal streams BLAH, BLAH, BLAH while the painting across demands first SILENCE! and finally JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP! Bochner has claimed that any voice here is ambiguous: It could be the paintings, the artist, or the viewer’s thoughts. This show reveals something personal, a bipolar smackdown between the cool Conceptualist and a wound-up Bochner on a rant. There’s no doubt about the winner.