Magazine article Art Monthly

Mel Bochner

Magazine article Art Monthly

Mel Bochner

Article excerpt

Mel Bochner Werner H Kramarsky New York April 25 to June 24

If drawing be the probity of art, then this selective rather than conventionally retrospective exhibition of Mel Bochner's drawings is the probity of a career in art. The 29 works comprising the show which opened in New York and travels throughout the United States samples Bochner's conceptual practice from four decades through a few crucial items. In consequence, we do not scan the drawings but study them.

Or, rather, scanning the drawings for form is frustrated wherever series, sequences, sets and measurements present themselves. Several pieces from the late 60s are led by the ordering language of structuralism. Configured arrays of dots in Rotations and Reversals, 1969, manage to be a kind of structuralist domino game. Theory of Painting (Parts 1-4), 1969, converts such notation to an explanatory illustration of structural manoeuvres, and so, in the more evidently visual scheme meant to realise an installation on site in a gallery, the drawing is now functioning as a plan. The theory of painting in question presents an analytic scheme of relations between paint and paper support, to exercise the possibilities of continuous and discontinuous incident.

Although Bochner disavows the term, he has given permission for his writings to appear in anthologies on Conceptual Art. Characteristic of the domain is the discursive artefact for which form as design is irrelevant, and relevant instead is structure, derived from disciplines other than art history; so, for instance, inspired in part by G Spenser Brown's Laws of Form, 1969, artists mimicked the arithmetic embedded in algebra which gave promise to extend its calculus to drawing. Theory of Sculpture: #6A (Commutativity), 1972, is an explanatory diagram meant to show that rearranging series is a formal language indifferent to beauty but not to intelligibility. The diagram indicating the law of commutativity is graphic, and its circular picturing of logic not part of the logic itself: this, a pedagogical enhancement of the maths raising the question, do pictures accurately reflect the logic they analogise? Furthermore, what is being pictured serves the picturing of a sculpture: the sculptural reduction to mass is what Bochner has in mind in his indicating stones and their rearrangement in clusters that, however arranged, add up to six. Relative to his practice in the 60s, the 70s suggests a practice grappling with differences between algebraic and geometric imagery and the implications each has for deriving sculpture and painting. In this regard, is the sculptural realisation necessary? That Bochner sought to realise the drawings for the laws of commutativity and transitivity shows a desire to explore material practice that could not be satisfied through drawing alone. (In stone and chalk, the sculptural version of the law of commutativity is arguably more successful than the drawing because associations to the abacus and awari games give concrete cultural reference to the idea of accounting.) Material, technique, site and orientation--all test the cultural semantic in semantic algebra.

If Conceptual Art provides the most reliable context for Bochner's theory of drawing, the practice reveals itself as inflected with period tendencies. The 80s, not much represented in this drawing retrospective, saw Bochner preoccupied with actual painting that responded to the then current (neo)expressionist revival; typical of Bochner then, however, is his proclivity to stage even expressivity as a logical proposal, against which perspective schemes conventional in painting emerge in the 90s as the logical antithesis. …

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