Words Out on Their Own

April 12, 2017 Sandra Linville-Thomas

Words pretty much hit me in the face while walking through the Whitney Museum of American Art in the spring of 2004. My only visit to the Whitney Biennial left an impression.

 

I anticipate a magic moment, maybe an epiphany, but feel a bit overwhelmed. I turn a corner and am delighted to find words among all these images. Walking through the exhibit, seeing the world through artists’ eyes transports me, but the Whitney Biennial is a lot to take in, particularly in one speedy trip. Now I find focus in the five word paintings of accomplished and veteran conceptual artist Mel Bochner.

 

Words in bright, candy colors

Each painting begins with one word in the upper left corner and then begins a trek through a thesaurus. The word “nothing” leads to “negation,” “goose egg,” etc. The other four words in the paintings include: “indifference,” “stupid, “meaningless,” and “mistake.” “Mistake” leads him to words such as “botch,” “boner,” “fumble,” “fluff,” “gaffe,” and “snafu.” All words are painted in bright, candy colors and I see them as if for the first time.

 

I don’t even try to interpret the message, if any, from the artist. I merely experience the paintings in the moment and find them powerful as words can be, even with no context. Maybe more so with no context. They stand alone.

 

Minimalist, conceptual art isn’t for everyone. But, I would suggest following John Cage’s advice: “If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then 16. Then 32. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”

 

It’s never comfortable

I enjoy conceptual art. It’s not always comfortable. Actually. It’s never comfortable. I don’t always know if I understand, but I always connect in some way that’s hidden in my conscious mind. So, I don’t try to connect with the art in a disciplined way. I just meet it head on and let it wash over me.

 

As I experience these words in a new environment and way, I feel the power of art to slow down time. My senses sharpen and I stuff any preconceived notions into my pockets, resisting the urge of my own ego to make this an intellectual experience. I stand in front of the five paintings and contemplate the orange, blue and red words: “Nothing,” “Indifference,” “Stupid,” “Meaningless,” and “Mistake.”

Blah, Blah, Blah, 2014
I-70 Sign Show, Hatton, MO
Credit: Mel Bochner website, melbochner.net

Intrigued and want more? Watch this short video, “Blah Blah Blah: Mel Bochner in His Own Words”. Don’t miss the end of the trailer. Also, see what the 2017 Whitney Biennial offers.

 

Have words displayed in unexpected ways in unexpected places ever captured your attention?