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A Note from the Editor-in-Chief

I feel as though I grew up with Mel Bochner as part of my art education in NYC in the late 70’s. Bochner’s work reached across the vast spectrum of young artists at the time. I remember that he kept and keeps both old school conceptualists and painters happy in perhaps the same ways.

I thank Mel for this issue as well as the writers and our wonderful editor.

I am so pleased that this issue has come to fruition and that the work of a living artist is of so much interest to so many people.

all my best,



Mel Bochner, Actual Size (Hand), 1968.


By Philip Auslander
The Art Section

This issue represents a first for TAS--although we have done thematic issues in the past, this is our first number devoted entirely to the work of a single artist.

The artist in question is Mel Bochner (b. 1940), a major figure in the development of American conceptual art in the 1960s and 1970s. His work of the 1960s focused on language in at least two senses. On one hand, he produced works using words as his materials. On the other, he made works that deconstructed the representational conventions underlying the languages of visual art, including perspectival space and the relationship between the object depicted and the various ways it may be represented (i.e., in words, photographs, measurements, etc.). He extended this analysis to the circumstances under which art is exhibited, including the space of the gallery. As the contributors to this issue note, Bochner frequently used non-art materials, such as tape, plain brown paper, note cards, coins, or hazelnuts in these pursuits.

In the later 1970s, Bochner "returned" to painting (though, as Robert Stalker points out below, his work arguably has always been about painting) with colorful works that brought his interest in measurement and linearity to geometric abstractions. In the last 20 years, Bochner has continued to pursue all of the interests reflected in his work in paintings and drawings that frequently take words as their subjects. These sometimes further the inquiry into color that first became apparent in his work of the later 1970s, and sometimes partake of a more expressionistic style than his earlier work.

Our first contributor is the distinguished art historian James Meyer, who graciously allowed us to republish a catalog essay from the mid-1990s in which he discusses Bochner's Measurement Series. Meyer draws our attention to Bochner's relationship not only to conceptual art but also to minimalism and suggests some connections between Bochner and his contemporaries.

In a discussion inspired by his reading of two recent additions to the Bochner bibliography, Michael Klein sets the scene in more personal terms by describing the social and intellectual world of New York's Soho in the 1970s and offers an appreciation both of Bochner's commitment to a rigorous art practice and his sense of humor.

Finally, Robert Stalker brings to light a relatively little-known work of Bochner's, New York Windows, the 1966 film he made in collaboration with the painter Robert Moskowitz. Stalker argues for seeing Bochner's interest in the relationship between pictorial and cinematic space as a bridge between his earlier conceptual work and his later paintings.

We are very pleased to present a selection of Mel Bochner's work provided to us by the artist himself. We are grateful for his participation. For more information on his work, please visit his website at


Mel Bochner, Actual Size (Face), 1968.

Bochner's Measurement Series

by James Meyer

This essay appeared originally in the catalog for the exhibition Mapping: A Response to MoMA at American Fine Arts Co., New York, NY, 21 January-18 February 1995.
Published by M. Rose Publications Inc. © 1995

A rectangular piece of paper, stapled to the wall. Black tape lines its leftand top borders; the sheet’s dimensions appear in black letraset (36” x 48”). A line of tape stretches across the sheet’s center, marking its length yet again.

Like so many of Me1 Bochner’s works, 48” Standards (#1), the first of what would become the Measurement Series (1968-1969) is vexingly simple: a sheet of bland, brown paper and its dimensions. Now to say this “simplicity” belies an extreme complexity (and I want to claim it does) is to repeat the very defense voiced by supporters of pared-down geometric work throughout the century, from Loos’s “Ornament is Evil” to Mies’s “less is more” to Greenberg’s writings on Newman. This could well be called the “defense of minimal,” and indeed, by the mid 60’s, the whole geometric shapes and serial formulas of Morris, Andre, Judd, and LeWitt came to be called “Minimal Art.” Bochner, emerging in these years, provided, in his art and published criticism, one of the strongest readings of minimalism, highlighting, extending, and in many ways rejecting its “tenets.” At least three features of minimal work, constitutively related, are taken up in the Measurement Series: the thematization of artistic process, art as epistemological inquiry, the foregrounding of the work’s situation or context. The present discussion will focus on these concerns.

In December, 1966, Bochner, a young instructor at the school of Visual Arts in New York, placed four identical books on pedestals in the school’s gallery. He entitled the installation, Working Drawings and Other Visible Things on Paper Not NecessariIy Meant to be Viewed as Art. Each book contained photocopies of preparatory drawings for artist’s projects: Flavin’s proposals for his light installations; LeWitt’s sketches of white lattices; Hesse’s numerical progressions; Andre’s studies for his poetry; plans forJudd’s Progressions, and even a bill for fabrication costs. In short, the Working Drawings are a site of overlap between the minimal and post minimal paradigms: to lay bare the processes of artistic production--the serial and modular techniques of minimal practice--Bochner co opted the latest technology of mechanical reproduction. The Working Drawings are the first “Xerox books,” a format which, “dematerializing” the visual work into a reproducible idea, became a hallmark of late 60’s conceptualism.1 Moreover, the foregrounding of constructive and cognitive processes in Bochner (and LeWitt) was the “conceptual” analogue to the materialist and temporal thematizations of process of Morris, Serra, Hesse, LeVa, and Nauman, although this relation should also be characterized as an overlap (Hesse was also obsessed with serial logic, while Bochner ‘s investigations of perceptual and cognitive process would, after the Working Drawings, incorporate material entities, even if of the most incidental kind: pebbles, pennies, match sticks, shards of glass).

Working Drawings and Other Visible Things on Paper Not Necessarily Meant to be Viewed as Art, 1966.

The Measurement Series continued these investigations. After the first of the 48” Standards--a single sheet of paper and its measurements—Bochner mounted two sheets and measured the space in-between; now the wall itself was incorporated into the work, an expanse to be measured. In the important 36” Latitudinal Projection, presented at Galerie Heiner Friedrich in 1969, a 36” x 36” square sheet provided the standard for mapping the dimensions of an entire room. Measurement: Room also at Friedrich, and Measurement: Circle 360 Degrees (1970, Galeria Sperone), the culmination of a series of measurements of arcs, went a step further, presenting the dimensions of the gallery itself. Like the projects of Judd, Andre, Flavin and LeWitt, Bochner ‘s Measurement works set up an a priori standard or shape that would produce the outcome of the “work”. In Bochner’s case, however, the ultimate source for this thematization of process were surely the practices of Rauschenberg, Johns, and the early Stella. Raushcenberg’s early blueprints of human bodies, tire print, and Factum I and II, Johns’s Number Series and Stella’s Black Paintings (whose stripes were determined by the edge of the canvas or proceeded concentrically from a preset pattern) offered a powerful critique of the subjectivist authorial model of abstract expressionism. “For me,” Bochner observed retrospectively, “the use of self-generating procedures to make art was a liberation from the limitations of my own ego. It represented an escape from individualism by the objectification of process. I remember believing that it may be the means of achieving Flaubert’s dream of the annihilation of the author.”2

Johns was influential in another direction. His critique of the expressionist model and insertion of language in the pictorial field resuscitated the Duchampian legacy of the anti-retinal, critiquing the late modernist insistence on a “pure” secularity. “When I first came to know Johns’s work I saw that I could stop painting,” Bochner has observed.3 By the early 60’s, Johns had transformed painting into a self-consciously epistemological inquiry, a “conceptual art” buoyed, in part, by the writings of the late Wittgenstein. What is the line between seeing and knowing? How do we define what we see or know? How do the linguistic systems we use determine this knowledge, or render it distant, strange? How do we communicate what we mean? Works like the Maps and According to What juxtaposed different representational codes, causing the coherence and clarity of each system to collapse. In an homage to Duchamp, rulers and compasses, “objective” tools of epistemological and spatial definition, were also introduced; Robert Morris followed suit.4 And so Bochner:

The first measurement “piece” I did was because I was unable to put anything on the paper. Nothing at that moment seemed meaningful enough to note. I had two sheets of paper on the wall which I was just looking at. Suddenly I saw the space between them. I saw that it was as much the subject as the paper. I measured the distance and drew it on the wall. . . . When I took down the sheets of paper I had the measurement alone. It puzzled me. It still puzzles me. What does it mean to have 25 inches drawn on the wall?5

In contrast to Johns’ and Morris’s investigations, which incorporated rulers within a painting or relief, abstracting and thematizing measurement, Bochner’s analyses were conducted on the wall, beyond the confines of the object. In other words, Bochner’s works were mediated by the minimal investigation of whole shapes and their perception in the gallery, an investigation initiated, during the mid ‘60s by Morris himself.6 Certainly, like minimal work, Bochner ‘s Measurements heightened the spectator’s awareness of the gallery site. However, introducing a numeric analogue or description of the measured area, Bochner transformed Morris’s analyses of the phenomenological conditions of the gallery into a conceptual critique of the art institution. The sheet of brown paper informed this transition:

The brown paper began as just a convenience, something that was always around the studio. It came in sizes, 3 feet by 4 feet, which are the standard measurements of most building materials. I slowly came to realize that these measurements are so deeply imbedded in our experience that they regulate our perception, yet remain completely invisible.7

The standard size of the sheet of paper, Bochner suggests, at once reflects and reproduces the standardized scale of modern architecture and its furnishings (of endless interest to Le Corbusier and Mies), a scale Bochner ‘s works would expose. In the late 60’s and early 70’s, Buren, Weiner, Asher, Graham, and Matta-Clark also analyzed the specular and ideological conditions of the late modernist “white cube.”8 Abstract painting—once an exemplar of “resistance,” now the commodity fetish par excellence--becarne a particular object of critique. Buren’s rolls of striped canvas were easily cut and mounted for a given context, inside or outside the gallery; Weiner’s 36” x 36” Removal to the Lathing or Support of Plaster or Wallboard from a Wall (1968) foregrounded the function of the “neutral” white exhibition site in conferring pedigree and value (in postwar years, the Museum of Modem Art, the Whitney Museum, and other institutions established this as the appropriate backdrop for modernist masterpieces). Bochner’s 48” Standards (#I) must be understood within the context of this activity. While Buren replaced the artist’s canvas with his reproducible roll, and Weiner removed the canvas’s support out from under itself, Bochner exchanged canvas for commercial paper. Each of these artists presented not the painting but its trace, a token of its absence, a cipher.

Bochner’s Measurement works narrate, with a seeming inevitability, a transition from the canvas to paper, from paper to expanses of wall, from the wall to the three-dimensional, “pure” space of the modernist gallery. They recuperate, for the postwar era, the legacy of institutional analysis of Russian constructivism and Duchamp: the context of the work is the “work.”


1. The most famous of the reproducible conceptual texts was the Xerox Book published by Seth Siegelaub and Jack Wendler in 1968, which included projects by Andre, Barry, Huebler, Kosuth, LeWitt, Morris, and Weiner.

2. He adds: “On [the latter] point, however, I was probably mistaken.” Letter to the author, January 13,1992.

3. Bochner quoted in Robert Pincus-Witten, “Mel Bochner: The Constant as Variable,” in Postminimalism into Maximalism (Ann Arbor: UMI, 1987), 103.

4. The relevant examples are Johns’s Painting with Ruler and “Grey” (1960), Good Time Charley (1961), and Device (1961-1962). Morris produced several works incorporating rulers from 1962-1964, and his Metered Bulb measured the wattage used to power an electric light. One particular work of Morris’s, formerly in the Scull Collection, bears particular mention. A square relief with the word LOCATION at center, surrounded by four arrows pointing in named directions (CEILING, FLOOR, and WALL FEET) and accompanied by odometers, anticipates the logic of the Measurements,

5. Quoted in Brenda Richardson, Mel Bochner: Number and Shape, exh. cat. (Baltimore Museum of Art, 1976), 12.

6. See Robert Morris, “Notes on Sculpture I and II,” in Gregory Battcock, ed., Minimal Art (New York: Dutton, 1968), 222-235.

7. Mel Bochner, “‘Unpublished Interview with Elayne Varian,” New York, NY, March 1969.

8. The finest discussions of this activity are to be found in the many texts of Benjamin Buchloh, including, most recently “From an Aesthetic of Administration to Institutional Critique: in L’Art conceptual-une perspective, exh. cat. (Paris: Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 1990), 41-53.


James Meyer (seen here at Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty) is the Winship Distinguished Associate Professor of Art History at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

Works by Mel Bochner


Mel Bochner, 2006. Photo: Nicholas Knight. Courtesy: The Brooklyn Rail.


Mel Bochner:
Two Recent Books and Other Thoughts by Michael Klein

OK I admit it: I love Mel Bochner. Well, I love Mel and his work, though I haven’t seen him in years. I probably first became aware of his work in the early 70s, when visits to galleries and Soho were ritualistic, and his shows at Sonnabend always received attention. Or so it seemed to me then.

The Spring Street restaurant was to New York in the 1970s what the Cedar Tavern had been to the 1950s. Spring Street was one of the first bars in the newly burgeoning neighborhood called Soho. We drifted down there on late nights after hours, since it was not far from our dorms at NYU, looked dangerous, and was reportedly a “gay bar” late at night. A few years later, I was part of the scene, working for a 57th Street dealer who represented artists living in Soho. After openings at Leo Castelli’s or John Weber’s gallery, or any Saturday opening, people (meaning artists, writers, and a few gallery folk) congregated at Spring Street. The conversation there, over roast chicken and white wine--we discovered chardonnay there--was animated, jovial, boisterous, opinionated, and often about the latest book or catalogue discovered on the tables at Jaap Rietman’s bookstore on Spring Street. None of the cynicism that came to be the “style” of the 80s was in evidence: it was all-black outfits, post-modern theory, and urban angst.

In previous generations, the power of art could be expressed by means of paint and brush by the likes of de Kooning and Rothko. For Bochner in the 1970s, that power was ascribed to the word and the use of that word. He was certainly not alone in the use of language as art--Ed Ruscha, Joseph Kosuth, and Jenny Holzer have also used text as their subject matter--but his written and verbal statements looked at language not as a descriptive mode but more as a measure of place and space. As he states in a 1971 lecture:

In my work the subject matter is the contradiction between physical space and mental space. How do our concepts of the world differ from the world itself?

Do artists ask those kind of questions today?-- LOL

Later, in an interview published in a 1985 Carnegie Mellon University catalogue, Bochner states:

I didn’t see why perception had to be tied to objects. Objects were never the things. I was particularly involved with-it was really feelings and ideas. And the feelings and ideas did not necessarily reside in objects. They resided in the artist’s approach to things—how things were thought about. That was what I was trying to find a way to communicate. It was my attempt to find my own identity

Bochner and his generation of artists played with the notion of what art was, what it could be, how it is done, accomplished, installed, recorded, discussed, written about, and studied.

Bochner was an art star in his own right in the 70s, as he deserved to be, a figure whose work is far more important than the appalling and, yes, even embarrassing hi jinx of the so-called YBA’s and their forbearers, or the all-but forgotten Neo Geo painters and sculptors of the 80s and 90s. Does anyone remember the toilet seat scandal or the endless speculation about appropriation or the East Village scene that disappeared into the history books, perhaps merely as a footnote, and onto a website or two? Through it all, Bochner simply continued his own investigations and probably watched, like we all did, a parade of characters and events that was entertaining at times, but mostly just confusing.

A dear collector friend in Los Angeles owns a great large painting by Bochner from the 80s. It is a strong, geometric arrangement and was a stunning surprise when I discovered it hanging on the wall of his West Hollywood house a few years ago (opposite an equally stunning early Ralph Humphrey I had urged him to buy years earlier). He knew that the Bochner had something and wanted it “badly,” as he put it.

In the Bochner is a playlet about the progression of forms, but what I find most engaging about this picture, and those like it, is its sense of time and rhythm, as if the progress of reading from left to right charts an activity that is simultaneously mental and physical. There are the kind of structural acrobatics you might see in Malevich and others of the Constructivist movement. Paint, texture, color, line are all expressed in fine detail; each element plays a significant role in the overall scheme of the picture. These ideas were first developed as wall paintings—yes Bochner was a close friend and admirer of Sol LeWitt—simple, rational, mathematical forms. Over the years, Bochner translated these images and thoughts into much more dramatic and linear configurations in charcoal and pastel drawings and intensely colorful, shaped canvases with titles like Vertigo, Breach, and Implode that suggested motion and speed, direction, and a certain tension or friction at hand.

As a student, I was won over by Bochner’s essays and reviews that appeared in Arts Magazine or elsewhere. I was taken by the raw values of working with stones and tape, tools that seemed less about making art than describing knowledge, or rather ways in which to translate knowledge about things in the world through visual means to a viewer in a gallery or museum setting. I appreciated the challenge Bochner declared through his conceptual stance, a radical departure from the usual tool kit of artists working in the vein of Abstract Expressionism or Pop. Bochner has always worked to achieve a delicate balance between what he described as feelings in partnership with ideas. He deploys an array of ideas--abstraction, words and numbers, letters and phrases-- as well as means by which to express these ideas in a coherent, cogent manner notable for its elegance and simplicity, in works that are minimal and spare.

For years I’ve collected books, pamphlets, and catalogues on Mel’s work, from his Primer, published in 1973, to a brochure of a drawing show in the early 80s in Dallas, Texas, to a more recent edition on drawings published by his long time supporter, the art dealer Lawrence Markey, in the late 90s, to one on photography published by Yale University Press in 2002 for a show at in Boston and Pittsburgh.

To a bibliophile such as myself, the first encounter with a new monograph or catalogue is sometimes better than first time-sex with a new lover. Me, with the new book, on my bed, a down comforter, the lights low, and on every fresh page something exciting to read, new pictures to look at, new things to learn, to think about….

The bibliographic recognition of Bochner’s contribution to contemporary art practice and theory continues with several new shows and books: Mel Bochner Language 1966-2006, organized by the Art Institute of Chicago, and a new book, Solar System & Rest Rooms: Writings and Interviews 1965-2007 published by MIT Press in 2008.

As reference works, these are terrific surveys of two distinct elements in Bochner’s work. The Chicago book focuses on language and the use of words as works of art--there would be no Bochner without the word. The MIT book explores Bochner the artist as critic, writer and theoretician. As serious and demanding as Bochner’s writings are in this edition, he also demonstrates the humorous side of this life in art as illustrated in a small 1966 notebook drawing call  “Minimal Art – the Movie.” On it are penned two lists: one of the names of minimalist artists, the other a list of actors “cast”to play each artist in the movie. Dan Flavin is played by Jackie Gleason; Kirk Douglas would portray Carl Andre, and Eva Hesse is forever remembered because of Monica Vitti! years later, Bochner’s humor goes public. On a large, fifty-two foot long signboard called The Joys of Yiddish, Bochner lists a dictionary of terms that are used to describe people, that is the public, made up of disparate characters. The crowd includes the nudnick and pisher, and the kibbitzer and gonif. Once again, he brings together his ideas and feelings! Oy!

Mel Bochner, The Joys of Yiddish, enamel on plywood, 2006.

Equally successful in this volume is the collection of articles and interviews, which includes reviews of shows, including the important Primary Structures at the Jewish Museum in the mid 60s, to late Cezanne and Bonnard, discussions of film and photography, and conversations with various writers and critics such as the late John Coplans, Charles Stucky, and James Meyer. Bochner writes about his peers-- Donald Judd and Robert Mangold, for example--and the art world he is operating in. Yes, it is all very New York-centric, but this was long before the world-wide-web and the globalization of everything.

With any luck, the next book to enter the Bochner bibliography will be a monograph that brings all parts of his ouevre together and presents to a younger audience the accomplishments of a man who helped develop American conceptual art. It’s good to have the books, but where is the long overdue retrospective of Bochner’s work? It would be daring to see rooms of his counting and measurement pieces using stones and chalk, rooms of graphite drawings and prints, casein wall paintings and paintings on canvas, representing over 40 years of thinking and working, presented to a public that thinks it knows contemporary art.


Michael Klein operates Michael Klein Arts in New York and is an artist’s agent and private dealer.

Mel Bochner, Surface Dis/Tension, silhouetted composite gelatin silver print, 1968.

Thresholds of Vision:
Mel Bochner and the Space of Painting

by Robert Stalker

In some ways I always thought of myself as a painter
. . . a painter who just didn’t happen to paint.

--Mel Bochner

Mel Bochner’s “return” to painting in the 1980s caught many by surprise. After all, hadn’t Bochner, like a lot of artists who came of age in the 1960s, long since turned his back on painting? Indeed, the work that established Bochner as one of the earliest and most significant Conceptual artists—exhibits comprised of “working drawings,” diagrams, note cards, even masking tape—seems, at first blush, preoccupied with questions (not to mention materials) far removed from those that have traditionally concerned painters. And yet, as Bochner himself has insisted, underpinning much of his rather wide-ranging artistic output is “an analytical attempt to rethink painting’s functions and meanings.” The obvious intimation of cinematic space in the very paintings that marked Bochner’s “return” to the genre suggests that central to Bochner’s project of rethinking painting’s functions and meanings is a consideration of the relation between the space of the picture plane and that of the cinema screen. The sequential ordering of the image in Threshold (1982) or the tumbling blocks depicted in such paintings as Freefall (1987) seem to break down the illusion of cinematic movement into a pictorial representation of individual film frames projected simultaneously. During the ‘60s Bochner rarely availed himself of the tools and materials we would normally associate with painting; nevertheless, the relations between pictorial and cinematic space fascinated him even then, finding an exceptionally provocative expression in two related works from this period, the film New York Windows (1966) and the magazine piece Alfaville, Godard’s Apocalypse (1968).

Made in collaboration with the painter Robert Moskowitz, the little-known film New York Windows, represents one of Bochner’s earliest attempts to think about the relations between painting and moving image. Having met while Bochner was working as a guard at The Jewish Museum, Bochner and Moskowitz embarked on a film project when a mutual friend lent them a 16mm movie camera and some unexposed film. After some initial experiments, the two shot a 12 minute black and white silent film entitled New York Windows.The film received its first public screening at the Projected Art exhibition at the Finch College Museum in 1966 and, unfortunately, has rarely been screened since. (According to Bochner’s studio, who generously gave me on-line access to a DVD version of the film, no known print of the film now exists.) Comprised of 10 static shots of New York shop windows, the film explicitly plays the space of the picture plane, whose most common metaphor of the window is literalized in the film, against the representational space of cinema.

The ten shop windows that form the putative subject of the film were all chosen, as Bochner later said, “on the basis of the artificiality of their displays”—a standing female mannequin brandishing a whip surrounded by stuffed tigers, a blown-up movie still of a couple running, a display of muscle and physique magazines. The individual shots are held for 1 or 2 minutes; the stationary camera and stillness of the window displays temporarily lend each shot the quality of still photograph. (Bochner and Moskowitz were apparently influenced in this regard by the work of Walker Evans.) The film’s central image of the window, however, inescapably calls to mind Leon Battista Alberti’s centuries old metaphor of painting as an open window (aperta finestra), pushing the relation between picture plane and movie screen. (Moskowitz’s painting from this period, Untitled (1961), included in the Art of Assemblage show in 1961, was a kind of collage that incorporated the window shade from his studio directly into the canvas, similarly explores the metaphor of painting as window.) In making the window frame virtually identical to the film frame, New York Windows conflates the window, the picture plane, and the movie screen, bringing together what Bochner calls in a contemporaneous catalogue statement entitled “Seriality and Photography” (1967) “conflicting conceptual and visual orders.”

The film adds yet another layer to these conflicting visual orders by capturing the wraithlike images of moving traffic and bustling passersby reflected in the shop windows. The movie thus suggests yet another space of vision, that of the mirror. Shot at 24 fps but intended to be projected at 16 fps, the film, as Bochner has said, slows “the procession of disembodied reflections to a funereal pace.” The contradictory spaces of vision evoked by window, screen, and mirror, along with the film’s concurrent absorption in the eerie stillness of the window displays and the dreamlike movements of cars and people, create a rather vertiginous and unreal sense of space. The inclusion of the occasional pedestrian passing between the camera and shop window further complicates the confusing sense of space set up by the film. In a note on the film written immediately after the film was made but not published until recently, Bochner states: “The window pane, now congruent with the movie screen, becomes the debased counterpart of the painter’s picture plane, simultaneously transparent and reflective.”

Mel Bochner and Robert Moskowitz, Still from New York Windows (1966).

In 1968, Bochner pursued these tensions between painting and cinema in one of his most bewildering works, the magazine piece Alfaville: Godard’s Apocalypse, initially published in Arts Magazine. Occupying a curiously liminal space between commentary and “genuine” art work, a “genre” that Bochner originated several years earlier with Robert Smithson in their piece for Art Voices entitled “The Domain of the Great Bear” (1966), Alfaville takes as its ostensible subject Godard’s science fiction detective film Alphaville: A Strange Case of Lemmy Caution (1965). (The misspelling in the title of Bochner’s piece resulted from an error on the part of the magazine’s typesetter). The piece takes the form of a grid containing within its individual “blocks” both written text and images: eclectic quotations, plot summary, observations on the film’s technique and themes, and images ranging from stills from Godard’s film and Roger Corman’s The Wild Angels, to an Ed Ruscha photograph of a parking lot to a photograph of William S. Burroughs, who, in his fedora and trench coat looks a bit like Alphaville’s noir hero, Lemmy Caution (played by the American ex-patriot actor Eddie Constantine). While the piece offers an oblique commentary on what Bochner perceives as Godard’s “old conventions of ethics and rationality,” the article’s puzzling form engages, much as New York Windows did, the curious tensions between stillness and motion opened up by the conflation of different frames of vision.

The odd grid-like structure of the piece evokes at once the cinematic and the pictorial, creating the kind of dizzying sense of space induced by New York Windows. On the one hand, the arrangement of the text into individual blocks of writing casts off the traditional imperative to scan the page from left to right, allowing the reader to move vertically or horizontally, creating a sense of motion. On the other hand, the disorientation induced by the unusual structure tends to distance the reader from the text, compelling the visual apprehension of the page layout in its entirety. That this conceptual and perceptual instability was at least part of the article’s point is suggested by Bochner’s comments in a recent interview: “The grid lulls the reader into believing there must be an order to the text. But after a number of frustrating wrong turns, it becomes evident that the grid is not going to work as a road map. The ‘uneasiness’ comes from the realization that you are caught in a labyrinth and are going to have to find the way out by yourself.” The arrangement of text and image in the form of the grid undermines the temporality of traditional writing, creating a kind of “para-cinema” from what Yve-Alain Bois calls its “montage structure.” The grid’s relation to cinema is further suggested by Bochner’s inclusion of the following quote from Godard: “My films are blocks.” (While Godard has certainly made statements like this, Raphael Rubinstein, who first exhibited Bochner’s Alfaville in an art context, warns that some of Bochner’s attributions may be fictitious.) Rather than supplying a set order, the grid allows for a quasi-cinematic montage of various juxtapositions of the grid’s blocks.

If the grid-like structure of the piece encourages a quasi-cinematic experience, it also evokes painting. Most immediately, the grid suggests the high modernist tradition of Mondrian, Malevich, and Albers, to name a few, painters who all famously worked with the grid. Reaching further back in art history, however, the grid might also summon the Renaissance velo-grid, a device used to aid painters in the mapping of a three dimensional real-world space onto the two-dimensional space of the picture plane. Either way, the grid’s evocation of the picture plane turns the text of Alfaville from words to be read into, to borrow Robert Smithson’s famous phrase, “words to be looked at,” subtly anticipating in this regard Bochner’s wall painting Language is Not Transparent (1970). Alfaville’s arrangement or shaping of the text on the page foregrounds the materiality of language, looking forward to the way that, as Bois has pointed out, the “pseudo-expressionist gesture” of the later mural shows “that the material form in which language is uttered does have an effect on its signification.” The piece’s deployment of the grid thus creates the kind of irresolvable tensions between motion and stasis, transparency and opacity, that Bochner explored in New York Windows, evoking at once the different spatio-temporal dimensions of painting and cinema.

The line dividing Bochner’s early “Conceptualist” phase of the 1960s and his more recent “return” to painting in the 1980s may not be as definite as some have supposed. The fascination with the relations between pictorial and cinematic space that characterize the paintings Bochner began producing in the 1980s finds its incipient expression in works such as New York Windows and Alfaville. “I’m interested in painting as a text that is continually rewritten,” the artist has said. Rewriting that text for Bochner has involved bringing the cinematic into provocative, at times quite disconcerting, collision with the space of painting.



Robert Stalker is an Atlanta-based freelance arts writer.