Wordplay with Artist Mel Bochner

Master of the Universe (2010)Through April 8, 2012, visitors can experience conceptual artist Mel Bochner’s thesaurus paintings in the National Gallery of Art’s Tower Gallery in the East Building.  In the Tower: Mel Bochner is the Tower Gallery’s first exhibit by a living artist and the open space is allows for Bochner’s work to breath and shine.  

Mel Bochner isn’t a common name outside the art world, but he’s been creating art for over 40 years.  Born in Pittsburgh in 1940, Bochner has a BFA from the Carnegie Institute of Technology and studied with Joseph Fitzpatrick as a young man.  But it was New York City’s vibrant art scene in the 1960s that really pushed Bochner’s creativity.  Using a thesaurus, Bochner did portraits of his artist friends like Eva Hesse and Robert Smithson.  He started with a single word and then used synonyms to built from there, developing an artistic and linguistic portrait of his subject.  Fascinated with the process, he went on to do more thesaurus drawings, but in the late ’60s left words for other projects.  But in the late 1990s, Bochner returned to the thesaurus, this time taking them to canvas with bright, bold paints, creating large works like Master of the Universe, Amazing!, and Oh Well.  All of these works, along with his earlier portraits are included in the show.  

 Working Drawing for Master of the Universe (2010)Portrait of Eva Hesse (1966)