Mel Bochner, ‘Wrap: Portrait of Eva Hesse’, 2001, Bowdoin College Museum of Art

In the spring of 1966 Mel Bochner made a series of word portraits dedicated to his artist friends, including Dan Flavin, Eva Hesse, Sol LeWitt, Ad Reinhardt, and Robert Smithson. Thirty-five years later Bochner recreated several of his word portraits at a larger scale in charcoal and pencil. The works consist of words culled from a thesaurus or encyclopedia that describe a fundamental aspect of the art of the individuals they represent. Bochner’s use of language echoes the tradition of concrete poetry in which the form that words take on the page is given equal weight to their content. The visual aspect of the text is presented in a manner as carefully considered and evocative as the meaning of the words themselves. For example, the circular text of Wrap: Portrait of Eva Hesse calls to mind the tightly wound coils in her work No title (1966).

Image rights: © Mel Bochner

"This Is a Portrait If I Say So: Identity in American Art, 1912 to Today"

Courtesy of Akira Ikeda Gallery, New York, New York and Tokyo, Japan.

About Mel Bochner

Mel Bochner’s approach and materials constantly vary; in fact, the artist formally disavowed allegiance to a single material in his famous essay titled “the Medium and the Tedium” (2010). Bochner—who has produced paintings, installations, and photography—is noted to be one of the most influential pioneers of Conceptual art, and the organizer of the first Conceptual art exhibition in 1966. A recurring theme in Bochner’s work is the relationship between language and physical space or color. This is famously demonstrated in his “Measurement” installations of the late 1960s, visualizing the exact dimensions of rooms and exhibition spaces, and thesaurus-inspired paintings of a single word and its synonyms. Bochner formally studied under Douglas Wilson and Wilfred Readio, though his eventual style would draw strong influence from the works of Clyfford Still and Jean Dubuffet.

American, b. 1940, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, based in New York, New York