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A Conceptual Art Pioneer Who Doesn’t Mince Words

The gallery is hangar-size and vacant, seemingly poised to receive a monumental sculpture or house an epic-scale theatrical production; a commuter train would fit quite snugly. But, on an early November morning inside Dia:Beacon, the Hudson Valley, N.Y., museum known for its exhibitions of Minimalist art, none of that awaits. In fact, the work is already installed: Thick lines of red tape course along the sunlit walls, accompanied by numbers that reflect their respective measurements (3’, 16’8”), like a blueprint come to life. “Measurement Room: No Vantage Point” by Mel Bochner, which opened at the museum this month, is the artist’s latest effort in making our thought processes visible.

Often mentioned alongside Donald Judd and Sol LeWitt as a practitioner of American conceptualism, Bochner was born in Pittsburgh and lived in San Francisco, Mexico and Chicago before arriving in New York in 1964, at the age of 24. Two years later, at the School of Visual Arts, where he was teaching art history, Bochner presented the show “Working Drawings and Other Visible Things on Paper Not Necessarily Meant to Be Viewed as Art” — a set of office binders that contained Xeroxed versions of notes by Robert Smithson, Dan Flavin, Judd and others for their own art, placed on plinths — which is now considered to be the first exhibition of conceptual art. Bochner is perhaps even better known for his word paintings, portraits in text form of his fellow conceptualists, which he made in the ’60s. In those works and his more recent “Thesaurus” series — in which Bochner depicts exuberant collisions of formal, colloquial and vulgar synonyms — the artist examines words’ ability to muddy meaning (“blah blah blah” is a recurring motif).....

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