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MIT Press
Solar System & Rest Rooms: Writings and Interviews, 1965-2007

Solar System & Rest Rooms: Writings and Interviews, 1965-2007

by Mel Bochner, Yve-Alain Bois


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Reviews, art criticism, theoretical texts, interviews, catalog statements, notecards, magazine interventions, and other writings on art and art in the form of writing by a leading conceptual artist; many pages reproduced in facsimile.

Artist Mel Bochner became a writer, he says, almost by accident. In 1965, as a young artist in New York, he was out of a job; Arts Magazine paid him $2.50 for every review he turned in, whether they published it or not; a month of review-writing paid his rent—$28.00 a month. His reviews and articles provoked a range of unexpected reactions. “At that time, artists who wrote were looked at suspiciously, as if writing somehow tainted their visual practice,” he writes. A painter friend attacked him publicly for “joining the enemy.” Bochner soon began testing the boundary between writing-as-criticism and writing-as-visual-art. Solar System & Rest Rooms collects both Bochner's writings on art and his writings as art, offering more than fifty pieces—reviews, art criticism, theoretical texts, interviews, catalog statements, notecards, and his groundbreaking “magazine interventions”—many reproduced in facsimile. Bochner is a leading figure in conceptualism; his 1966 installation at the School of Visual Arts Gallery Working Drawings and Other Visible Things on Paper Not Necessarily Meant to Be Viewed as Art is considered to be the earliest exhibition of conceptual art. Solar System & Rest Rooms chronologically documents the work and ideas of this important artist over a span of forty years, as well as providing a unique perspective on the conceptual and post-minimal art scene in New York. This book offers a rare insight into what it means to be an artist whose visual practice is inseparable from the sustained practice of writing. Mel Bochner has lived and worked in New York City since 1964. His work has been exhibited internationally and is included in major museum collections throughout the world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780262026314
Publisher: MIT Press
Publication date: 05/09/2008
Series: Writing Art
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 1,130,567
Product dimensions: 8.60(w) x 11.10(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Mel Bochner has lived and worked in New York City since 1964. His work has been exhibited internationally and is included in major museum collections throughout the world.

Yve-Alain Bois studied at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes under the guidance of Roland Barthes and Hubert Damisch. A founder of the French journal Macula, Bois is currently a professor in the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ.

Read an Excerpt

Solar System & Rest Rooms

Writings and Interviews, 1965-2007

By Mel Bochner
The MIT Press
Copyright © 2008

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-262-02631-4

Chapter One Arts Magazine Reviews

December 1965

James Hans: Hans throws the works at every picture. They burst with eclecticism, as if in homage to a mythical god of art magazines. Photographs, Photostats, collage, impasto, drip, "fool-the-eye," copied bits of Van Gogh, etc., only serve to deaden the viewer despite the sense of bravura that Hans certainly displays. (Stryke.)

Marcelo Bonevardi: Competency, craftsmanship, and professionalism lend these large painting-constructions a certain interest. Into shallow spaces constructed behind a heavily surfaced canvas, small wooden abstract shapes are placed in the manner of a meticulous Nevelson. The keyed-down color, non-referential shapes, and small esoteric numerals and arrows do not quite achieve an intended aura of mystery. If Bonevardi aspires to enigma, his all-too-familiar international vocabulary is incapable of expressing it. (Bonino.)

Allen Jones: This somewhat celebrated member of the "new" English school represents the not unique dilemma of the derivative artist and his inability to digest sources. Jones begins with a sort of Milton Berle premise that permits him to borrow freely and with a blithe openness. The permission for his content comes from a current preoccupation with "polite bad taste" and "genteel" perversity. The permission for his devices comes from the work of Kandinsky, Lindner, Hockney, and Dine. What he would have us believe is that he is involved in a private symbology of sex, but any jokes known to ten thousand gallery-goers are no longer private. In the paintings, he attempts to relate real objects to flat and illusionisitic painting, but in every case the elements are in relationships that negate both one another and any possibility of a cohesive statement, whether of unity or contradiction. Seven vertical sculptures, generically titled Man, are too obvious in their phallic allusion. Executed in Plexiglas, wood, paint, and rope, they become more effective when Jones is able to brake his visual self-indulgences and eliminate such meaningless vanities as torn drawings left nesting in the plastic bases. (Feigen.)

Founding Fathers: The rationale was good, if not unusual, the participating artists were "right" ... why was this exhibition so disappointing? Because, with the exception of a large de Kooning Woman as Landscape, its selections ranged from minor to casual. Pollock's 1942 Mad Moon Woman, its paint crusted and cracking, did manage to sparkle with an energy his other paintings here were unable to maintain. The small Newmans seemed didactic, like diagrams included to illustrate the "idea," and revealed the importance to his art of scale. The fragile insight of Cornell was evident in his wall of boxes and collages, but to a lesser degree than is usual. Gorky assumed a quiet role, except in a drawing titled Virginia Landscape 1944, which had a grace and agility otherwise lacking in this show. (Stone.)

Francisco Larez: Larez has his first one-man show of monoprint intaglios in a gallery which, when under the direction of Carl Zigrosser, was a hotbed for artists working in the print media. Calder, Maurer, Frasconi, Wicke, Hopper, Tamayo, all had early shows at Weyhe. But today the pickings are a bit slimmer, and as printmakers develop a more and more insular, decorative vision one looks in vain for young, exciting talent. Larez restricts himself to a monochromatic, central, deeply bitten, quasi-figurative brown or gray image. Occasionally a bit of color applied to the plate à la poupée attempts to enliven the print. By engulfing themselves in technical and chemical problems, printmakers have for the most part lost sight of other, more pressing problems of contemporary art. The print is rapidly becoming the medium of the second-rate artist. (Weyhe.)

Degan Evans: Not all self-imposed limits free the artist. The schema of these paintings, containing one or two shapes, usually with a hole in them, restricts expression instead of releasing it. The repetition and candy-box color produce the most disagreeable kind of boredom-tastefulness. (Satori.)

January 1966

Larry Bell: The gallery becomes a stage for this motionless ballet of objects. The objects are all hollow, translucent glass cubes, mounted on clear, vertical Plexiglas stands. Except for slight (but meaningful) variations in size and color, they are all alike, or so they would appear. They stand with complete impersonality. Self-effacing, they in turn resist any attempt to relate to them. One sees into them and through them; there is "nothing" and the world is altered. As a contemptuous mime will, they reflect you on their faces. In a final irony, by being manifestations of technological anonymity, they sneer at craftsmanship. Works of dehumanized art, in their aggressive silence they hide rather than reveal, and this in itself makes them objects of the time they live in. (Pace.)

Gerald Laing: Industrial design continues to infiltrate the fine arts, and we will probably be seeing more and more sculpture that pretends to be mechanical and manufactured. As objects, these highly polished, flat metal cutouts are functionless and static, and only reinforce the inevitable conclusion that decoration divorced from purpose is still all icing and no cake. The paradox, though, is that Laing is preoccupied not so much with the crass, hard beauty of hot-rod striping, but with the all-pervading spirit of Newman, Noland, and Stella. (Feigen.)

Claude Tousignant: Without some touch of humor or personal eccentricity, optical painting no longer seems to have any saving grace, unless it is purely didactic. Opting for a common language of circles, both in rectangular and circular canvases, Tousignant manages to jangle the viewer's eye, but not his mind. (East Hampton.)

Nathan Oliveira: The recent work of this West Coast painter suggests the exhaustion of a certain direction that painting took after the heyday of abstract expressionism. It was called the "Return to the Figure." Oliveira is still attempting to carry the meaning of his pictures in the actual painting, but the newer, obscure figurative references lack the "toughness" he was once able to convey by his painterly gestures alone. (Alan.)

Ronald Markman: In borrowing directly from the "funnies," samplers and patchwork quilts, Markman never quite transcends his sources. Although the comic strip is now generally accepted as artful (and hasn't it always been?), the painter who chooses this genre still must rise above the level of his source, or the results can only be enlarged color doodling. (Dintenfass.)

Olle Baertling: Growing out of the Hard Edge vein of the 1930s School of Paris forms, Baertling's paintings have arrived at a very personal statement on the problems of plastic tension. Harsh colors, always bound on the diagonal by black struts, seem caught at the moment when, trying to escape their rectangular prison, they achieve a maximum energy. (Fried.)

Yanni Posnakoff: "Elements of War ..." Some boards are covered with toy soldiers and sprayed bronze or green; some canvases are covered with black silhouettes of toy soldiers. Sometimes they are in line. Sometimes they group. Once Pope Paul appears, via collage, to say, "No More War." If these works fall short of simulating a battleground, they do succeed in resembling an artistic disaster area. (Internationale.)

Bedri Baykam: At first sight, the graphic qualities of these black-and-white drawings are striking in their crudely childlike effect. The revelation is in discovering that they are, in fact, the work of an eight-year-old. Exhibitions of this sort always resurrect knotty questions: At what level should the works be appreciated? Where does their real value, if any, lie? And how much have our initial perceptions been manipulated by the presentation in an art gallery? "Art is not a game for children," de Kooning said. If these were the drawings of a mature artist affecting a primitive style, their draftsmanship would be judged inferior compared, say, to Miro's, and their insights slight next to Klee's. If viewed critically on the level of child-art, they are not dazzling; their wit and invention appear slightly spoiled, as if by contagion. What, then, this kind of presentation actually raises is uneasy speculation, not about the values of art, but about clever exploitation of values. (Greer.)

Sol Mann: Adopting a Gottlieb format of suns floating over areas of free painting, the artist has embroidered the surface in a very actiony way. However, the drips, splashes, dabs and globs reveal little Angst, only a good deal of nervousness. (Jason.)

February 1966

Stanley Boxer: These are fool-the-eye paintings. First you think they are abstract expressionist and then discover they are flowers and mountains. It takes a while for the realization, and during this time Boxer's painterly skill is becoming evident. He is a rich and subtle colorist, lyrical and expressive. One wishes he did not disguise his painting as mountains and flowers. (Grand Central Moderns.)

Jean Dewasne's paintings celebrate his formal inventiveness. The surfaces are crisp and shiny, the edges hard and razor-sharp, the color vivid and exciting. But instead of expansive, they appear cluttered. Any one of the configurations he devises would have had more presence alone. Then they would not have been compositions of things but things in themselves. Dewasne is too involved with the heritage of cubism to be "with it" in the cool design of industrial geometry. (Cordier-Ektrom.)

Billy Apple: Neon lights in themselves are visually arresting. There is no such thing as an ugly neon sign. The strangeness of neon light and the intensity of its color give immediate impact to almost anything an artist does with it. But this also makes it very dangerous and difficult to do anything "with" neon. Apple was satisfied to stop at the aesthetic level. He grouped the lights in the form of semicircular rainbows, each tube being a different color of the spectral progression. Other problems made themselves apparent. Because of certain technical necessities the largest rainbow was festooned with wires and props. (Bianchini.)

Leo Jensen sends us large polychrome wooden relief postcards from a mythical vacation spot where Candy and Lolita take their holidays. They seem to be manifestations of a commercial artist unconsciously fulfilling his more lecherous dreams. But the forms and stylized postures (à la Marisol) are not Pop. There is too much manipulation and intrusion on the part of the artist, so that finally these pieces do not transcend or even equal department-store windows. Jensen seems to have missed the gist of Pop-that there is art in non-art and it needs no helping along. (Amel.)

Frank Drake: Large and small clear Plexiglas boxes were filled with multicolored solidified plastic sponge. The sponge material, while still in a liquid state, was permitted to flow down the inside walls, forming Morris Louis-like configurations. The works look too much like displays for those very crass pastel-shade sofa pillows. As objects of art they are not beautiful or vile enough to be moving, either in themselves or in the multitude of their obvious references. (Castellane.)

Yutaka Ohashi: Most of Ohashi's glass-faced boxes remind one of fish tanks. Besides the poverty of their construction, the ideas were thin. (When a fan was switched on, some sand blew around the bottom of the box.) However, two pieces did have an aggressiveness which was in their favor. A large, black, two-part cylinder, operated by a switch, blew bubbles in the viewer's face, causing a wave of anxiety which was relieved a second later upon realization that they were harmless soap bubbles. Another glass cylinder, operated by a foot pump, slowly raised a jet of water to its open mouth and ejaculated it in a metaphoric act of masturbation. (Alan.)

March 1966

Robert Rauschenberg: With almost unerring sensibility Rauschenberg offers us a modern Inferno. There is a long history behind this endeavor, which includes artists as diverse as Botticelli and Blake, who in turn have felt compelled to translate Dante's classic into the visual language and pictorial realities of their own times. The text is the initial motivation, but used as a base for personal poetic exploration and not as a series of events to be described, and Rauschenberg's essay into the genre is no exception. From a technical standpoint these drawings contain one of his most important plastic innovations-a transfer method that permits all the possibilities of collage without the often disturbing side effect of surface accumulation. The remaining execution, in a combination of pencil and gouache, is admirably in keeping with the softness of the transfer image. He avoids a serial statement that could have degenerated into illustration by constantly changing his symbology and references, thus forcing the uniform small format and similar color-texture to create the cohesiveness. While the activation of individual areas is expressionistic, the total effect is closer to Ernst in his collage novel Semaine de Bonte. But the differences are more important and help define the uniqueness of Rauschenberg's accomplishment. Ernst explores his world cerebrally; Rauschenberg, the more improvisational artist, conforms to the logistics of doing rather than the necessities of thinking. He permits himself to find his fears and anxieties in whatever is at hand. His Hell is the world of sports heroes, radar antennae, dismembered heads and dissolved identities. The described methodology of reading and illustrating one canto at a time reveals itself when one looks across the whole show (which was awkwardly hung). As he progressed the images became denser, less explicit, more overwhelming. These drawings constitute a high point in the already considerable achievements of Rauschenberg. (Museum of Modern Art.)

Hans Haacke, Gerald Oster: There are certain physical principles underlying the phenomena of existence which can be presented in visual terms. What is questionable is whether they belong in an art gallery or in a museum of science and industry. Gerald Oster's well-known moiré patterns and phosphenes deal with those quirks of structure in the human eye that can be titillated or confused by an occasional inability to coordinate seeing and knowing. The limitation of his constructions is a certain stinginess of form that never permits his pieces to transcend demonstrations of optics. Haacke is a more visually interesting artist. His aim is not to confuse but to delight. Paul Klee spoke of duplicating nature in her operations, and this is what Haacke sets out to do. But at the same time he attempts to conceal the hand and personality of the maker. His works may be viewed as "boxed nature," demonstrations of elementary physical principles such as wave motion, vapor density, compression, separation of liquids, the effects of forced air on solid or diaphanous materials. That they are visually beautiful or playfully satisfying is beside the point. Whether, in the case of both Oster and Haacke, the demonstration of mechanics is sufficient to deserve viewing as art, however flexible or extended the definitions may have become in the last fifteen years, remains to be seen. (Wise.)

John Carswell's world is still involved with that old bugaboo, the machine. His glossy, hard edge, black-shape-on-white-ground paintings allude not as much to the forms of Leger as to the nostalgia for a yesterday of simple mechanics. They belong to an era when, although threatened by the newness of manufactured motion, man still controlled its shapes and could be intrigued by his handiwork. But today, in an environment which has accepted cybernetics as a rule and where technology is refined to the point where it can be impeded only by the limitations of imagination, we cannot share Carswell's longed-for return to innocence. More interesting than the paintings was a group of small objects reminiscent of those fascinating displays of hardware-store gadgetry which are operable but accomplish nothing. Carswell's statement in these pieces was much more pointed. (Fischbach.)


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Table of Contents

Contents Foreword by Yve-Alain Bois....................xi
Preface and Acknowledgments....................xvii
Arts Magazine Reviews....................1
Primary Structures....................8
Art in Process-Structures....................12
Systemic Painting....................14
Review: Eccentric Abstraction....................16
The Domain of the Great Bear....................18
Less Is Less' (for Dan Flavin)....................26
The Beach Boys-'100%'....................31
New York Windows....................32
Review: New Dimensions 34 Consumer Testing The Warren Report: Kennedy's Assassination as TV Serial....................35
Serial Art Systems: Solipsism....................37
The Serial Attitude....................42
Seriality and Photography....................48
A Compilation for Robert Mangold....................50
Alfaville, Godard's Apocalypse....................52
An Interview with Elayne Varian....................56
"Anyone Can Learn to Draw"....................61
Review: 1969 Whitney Painting Annual....................62
No Thought Exists Without a Sustaining Support....................71
Excerpts from Speculation (1967-1970)....................72
Misunderstandings (A Theory of Photography)....................76
Notes on Theory....................83
ICA Lecture....................90
Axiom of Exhaustion....................94
Three Statements for Data Magazine....................96
Reflections on 7 Properties of Between....................102
Book Review: Six Years: The Dematerialization of theArt Object from 1966 to 1972....................104
An Interview with Lisa Haller....................108

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