Using Walls, Floors, and Ceilings: Mel Bochner

May 2 - October 19, 2014

In conjunction with the exhibition Mel Bochner: Strong Language, The Jewish Museum presents a commissioned painting by the artist, entitled Blah, Blah, Blah (2014). Installed in the Museum lobby, this work marks the second installment of the exhibition series Using Walls, Floors, and Ceilings. As one of the artists who participated in the original Using Walls exhibition (1970)—the inspiration for the current series—Bochner now takes part in the Museum’s exploration of its past as a source of curatorial and artistic inspiration.

In 1970, Mel Bochner created Theory of Boundaries on a wall in the Jewish Museum for the exhibition Using Walls (Indoors). It comprised four red squares: one rendered with precise lines, the other three made with imperfect or gestural strokes to form a border. The whiteness of the wall between each shape emphasized its straight or distorted edges. At the center of each square was a “language fraction,” written by the artist in chalk—word combinations that hinted at ideas of placement and displacement. Bochner used the wall like a notebook, offering notes toward a visual proposition.

Four decades after Theory of Boundaries, Bochner returns to the Jewish Museum with Mel Bochner: Strong Language, a survey of nearly 70 works. In conjunction with this exhibition, the Museum presents his commissioned painting Blah, Blah, Blah (2014). This is the second installment of the revived series Using Walls, Floors, and Ceilings. As one of the artists in the original Using Walls exhibition, Bochner now takes part in the Museum’s exploration of its past as a source of curatorial and artistic inspiration.

Blah, Blah, Blah, a seven-panel painting on velvet, continues the artist’s ongoing use of text as image. It belongs to a larger suite of works centered on this repetitious phrase, a weary, inarticulate expression of boredom and jaded irritation. Other works feature the word BLAH written over and over in azure swaths of paint. Drips, erasures, and smears suggest an attempt to silence a cacophony of pointless chatter.

Here, the BLAHS, stacked and uniformly aligned, are crafted in vibrant colors, using the artist’s signature font of rounded capital letters. Expressionist brushwork and thick facture distort their shapes, building a staccato pattern of legible and illegible words; the effect is of a chanting chorus of annoyed (or perhaps amused) voices. As in Theories of Boundaries, Bochner plays with notions of borders and negative space, with meaning and the gaps in meaning, with the relationship of the material to the ineffable: As knowledge is to practice…no thought exists without sustaining support.

About the Series

Using Walls, Floors, and Ceilings is a series of artist commissions at the Jewish Museum, initiated in 2013. Artists from around the globe have been invited to create new art or adapt a work for placement in the entrance lobby. The project builds upon Using Walls, a 1970 exhibition of commissioned artworks installed both within and beyond the gallery space of the Museum’s Warburg Mansion.

Forty-four years later, the Museum revisits this idea in Using Walls, Floors, and Ceilings, curated by Jens Hoffmann, Deputy Director, Exhibitions and Public Programs, and Joanna Montoya Robotham, Neubauer Family Foundation Assistant Curator.