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Review: Mel Bochner ‘Strong Language’ at the Jewish Museum

The first work displayed in Mel Bochner’s exhibition ‘Strong Language’ at the Jewish Museum, New York, sets the scene for much of what follows. Self/Portrait (2013) comprises a series of synonyms for the terms ‘self’ and ‘portrait’. On the left hand side of the canvas is a column of 18 painted words that range from ‘self’ to ‘egohood’ to ‘being’; on the right hand side is a symmetrical column of words that range from ‘portrait’ to ‘caricature’ to ‘life study’.

The work is deceptive in its simplicity. Painted in white against a black background, the words can be read as two lists. But when the work is taken as a painting, the words are abstracted and become things to be looked at. As a self-portrait, moreover, the work offers a playful commentary on the insufficiencies of language. Something as seemingly simple to define as your own self slips away in an avalanche of words...

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