New York

Mel Bochner

Sonnabend Gallery

A similar problem, though raised in connection with the placement of information rather than the desire to illustrate a process, is apparent in the work of Mel Bochner at Sonnabend. He has distributed sheets of white paper around the gallery floor on which lie rocks demonstrating propositions of logical necessity. For example: “If X is between A and B, X is not identical to A or B.” The pebbles are models, picturing instead of just asserting propositions. Since many artists and critics have frequently acknowledged the influence of Wittgenstein, it is not unreasonable to draw a parallel between Bochner’s ideas and the thinking of the early Wittgenstein, particularly in his arguments of X, Y, and Z, in the Tractatus. X says that. an assumption has a particular sense, Y pictures the sense, and Z says that if two propositions relate logically to one another there is some logical complexity between them. Simple propositional variables can be combined into more complex ones: for example, “not p” or “if p then q.” In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein attempted to show how this language was a picture or map of reality—words either represented, or could be reduced to words representing, objects of reality.

Bochner’s literal mapping of these propositions seems to exhibit the relation of abstract logical truths to the structure of reality. The rocks stand for points in space, atomic facts, and function as both palpable objects and symbols, like dots or lines drawn on a piece of paper. Language as code undermines the reading of markings for their graphic qualities.

But the rocks on the gallery floor are seen as objects of art, and we know of such works that each is unique. Bochner, however, has provided a family of objects, for the pebbles are fairly uniform and stand for the same equational notations, A, B, and X. Consequently, this “A” or that “A” illuminates not a particular rock, but its point in space. Why, for example, is such-and-such a statement placed in such-and-such a spot on the floor? Science, as information, is a construct of theories and systems, using words which become transparent as they are understood. The nuance and texture of poetry, on the other hand, resides in the opacity of the words. This is true of any work of art, the palpability of the thing is its meaning.

Bochner, however, transcends mere illustration of ideas for an investigation of the relation of symbolic data to fact. The rocks, signifying necessary truths, are abstracted from the contexts we generally use in considering statements. Bochner has attempted to prove that the limits of logical articulation can lead to puzzling and obscurantist statements. The problem lies in an erroneous search for meanings as objects in themselves. By showing what cannot be stated, Bochner demonstrates the importance of ostensive definition, or gesture, in the comprehension of meaning.

Lizzie Borden