Suzanne Bocanegra on Mel Bochner


There is a paradox at the center of Theory of Painting—the graph paper gives it away. It is a set of instructions about how to make something: a plan, an architectural description of a kind of sequential change. And yet, it’s four drawings. Mel Bochner is making something and thinking about making something at the same time.

This piece was drawn just a few years after Bochner’s groundbreaking conceptual installation, Working Drawings and Other Visible Things on Paper Not Necessarily Meant to be Viewed as Art, and it follows his revolutionary thinking about where the action is in a piece of art. But it also fits into the larger tradition of making study drawings to prepare for the creation of larger works. The larger work in this case is not a larger, more detailed, but still two-dimensional version of the original; the larger work is an action, an environment, a change in time. A study is a preparation, an exploration of how to accomplish a future task. In this piece, the task for which Bochner is preparing himself is a series of actions in space and in time.

I have always thought of this piece as choreography. It’s an instruction that tells you where and how to move, how to change a body’s relationship to its space, in time.

The real paradox is that it’s an abstraction and a narrative, all at the same time. It is an orderly square of drawings that describe disorder. It is the dance and the set, the performer, the performed and the performance.

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