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Secret Power of Synonyms

Words have been the subjects and primary constituents of the enigmatic yet acerbically provocative paintings Mel Bochner has been creating over the past 12 years. “Mel Bochner: Strong Language,” an elegantly produced exhibition at the Jewish Museum, gives them their due and traces their roots back to text-based works that Mr. Bochner created in the ’60s and early ’70s, when he was one of New York’s pre-eminent Conceptual artists.

Mr. Bochner wasn’t alone in his preoccupation with language then. Carl Andre, Richard Serra, Robert Smithson and many other avant-gardists at the time made word art. Also, like Donald Judd, Robert Morris and Smithson, Mr. Bochner wrote critical and theoretical essays with a rigorous, analytic fervor determined to extinguish sloppy, sentimental thinking and writing about art...

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