This weekend we’re checking out Mel Bochner: Strong Language at the Jewish Museum. And while we’re on the Upper East Side, we’ll stop by Earl’s Beer and Cheese on 97th & Park after the show. Update: the Bochner show closed on September 21st. To stay updated on what's going on right now, sign up for our #YourArtWeekend newsletter here.
THE ART /
When Mel Bochner moved to New York in the sixties, his first job was as a security guard at the Jewish Museum. Fifty years later, the Museum is offering a compelling retrospective of the artist’s work, with a particular focus on his recent large-scale paintings. The connecting thread -- from the pencil-on-paper work dating back to the sixties to the emoticon paintings from 2011 -- is Bochner’s obsession with language. Bochner seems to be asking: Is there a difference between looking at a painting and reading one?
The bulk of the exhibit is devoted to Bochner’s “thesaurus paintings.” Relying on bright colors and his Roget’s, he produces lists of synonyms in thick, clear paint on huge canvases. The words generally start off formal and tame, but by the end they approach the most vulgar versions of the terms that English has to offer. In one, “SILENCE!” leads to “COOL IT!” and eventually ends with “JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP!” A particularly striking example (and fitting for this setting) starts with the word “JEW,” moves on to “LOX JOCK” and ends with “CHRIST KILLER.”
With the thesaurus paintings, Bochner manages to engage with the philosophy and politics of language -- channeling Wittgenstein and Orwell -- while adopting a more painterly approach to color and design than in his earlier text-based works on display here. You might find yourself looking at a painting and admiring the way the bright colors jump off the canvas, and a second or two later your friend might turn to you with a question about whether or not it’s possible for a word to ever have the exact same emotional impact on two different people.
Bochner used black paint and white chalk to produce one piece, “Language Is Not Transparent,” directly onto the gallery wall. (Here’s a timelapse video of the process.) The work may be a key to understanding the others: words mean more than what their exact definitions tell us. They can look pretty damn good, too.
The show is only up until September 21, so be sure to get there while you can. It’s free on Saturdays!
WHAT TO DO AFTER /
One of our favorite spots on the Upper East Side is Earl’s Beer and Cheese, a warm, inviting little place known for -- what else? -- its beer and cheese. It’s only a few blocks away from the Jewish Museum, and you’ll never regret stopping there. Check out their spiced up gourmet grilled cheeses and awesome craft beers on tap. Our favorite was the Ellie’s Brown Ale from Boulder, CO’s Avery Brewing Company, but the draught selection changes almost every day, so get excited to try something new each time you visit.