Analysis of Mel Bochner's "If / And / Either / Both (Or)"

General / 25 October 2018

Mel Bochner's application of logic to a collection of measurements and colored rectangles in If / And / Either / Both (Or) redefines the spatial relationships of the environment for each viewer.  Its abstract qualities slightly cloak the methodical process used to divert attention away from each object and towards the experience. Moreover, his artwork has an unmistakable connection to the precedents demonstrated by Sol LeWitt, as well as other artists from the 1960s, who applied rationalization of systems to their processes.

Link to image of referenced artwork:

The exhibition If The Color Changes in 2013 at the Whitechapel Gallery in London showcased If / And / Either / Both (Or) along with some of Bochner's other artworks.  It capitalized on the gallery space to redefine its experience for the user through the use of measurements and text, themes that resonate throughout his artwork.  Reviews of his exhibitions, such as that by journalist Anna Richardson, frequently mention measurements and text "used to convey the personal, social or political, or in a notational and calligraphic way."[1]  Art writer Barry Schwabsky further supports the qualification of these units of language by referencing how Bochner exemplifies "the relation of language to representation and the manifold ways language can be a medium for artistic work."[2] These all point to Bochner's resourcefulness in employing elementary alphanumeric characters, refining their presentation, and allowing the emerging forms and patterns to express something more than the individual characters.  

The variations in vibrant colors and sizes of rectangles in If / And / Either / Both (Or) contrast with the white wall behind, but they also become the background for the white dimensions that span in distinct directions throughout the arrangement.  It depicts an "'exhaustion' of the complete set of permutations of directions and orientation," a strategy defined by Bochner.[3]  In addition to these forms, the perception experienced by a viewer through this artwork fuses elements of both the visual revelation within its spatial context and the hidden knowledge.[4]  Acknowledgment of the process and context become the critical guides for deciphering the logic within the abstract and prompts each viewer's unique experience of the artwork.  Artist and writer Mark Prince also describes Bochner's artwork with the term "perspectival illusionism."[5] It suggests that the artwork If / And / Either / Both (Or) uses perspective to draw the viewer into the illusion of its own physical space, regardless of whether the viewer is physically in the gallery space or simply viewing a photograph of the exhibit.

Bochner's philosophy is to divert attention from each individual element and he asserts this "by collapsing the space between the artwork and the viewer."[6]  In doing so, there is a greater opportunity for the viewer to navigate through the artwork discovering the relationships, patterns, and aesthetic, such as the aforementioned illusion.  An interview with Bochner notes his fascination with "how the mind represents such relations in distinct formats (e.g., boundaries, numbers, words)."[7]  An up-close look of the artwork If / And / Either / Both (Or) highlights the measurements that create an interdependence among the various colors and rectangles.  In some cases, there are well-defined boundaries whereas others are overridden by the traversing lines of the measurements.  When viewed from afar however, the numbers become indiscernible but the lines naturally guide the eye like a highway across the map of a colored landscape.  Furthermore, it takes into consideration the context and generates its own relationships with surrounding elements.  The stark boundaries between the vibrant colors and white background rely on the wall itself, its size, and barrenness.  Even the floor tiles in the White Chapel Gallery appear to make an attempt at bridging the artwork to the ground plane, stimulating the viewer to mentally draw measurements throughout the rest of the space.  Bochner echoes this intent by stating, "When I put the measurements on the wall, Iʼm forcing the architecture to reveal itself, to surrender its transparency." [8]

Naturally, the artwork by Bochner parallels the fundamentals of Sol LeWitt's Minimalism, but it also exhibits an evolution to explore new relationships and experiences.  In another interview with Bochner, he specifically referenced an affinity for LeWitt's work and ideas about process while stating that "art is about knowledge, not about objects."[9]  LeWitt also employed the bond between elementary building blocks and the complex systems they are capable of generating.  His focus was on the process of defining, generating, and experiencing the system, not necessarily on the actual objects.  And like Bochner, LeWitt strategically understood the spatial context of his artwork, incorporating it in such a way that it would become part of each viewer's individual experience.  When asked about his understanding of space, Bochner referenced a statement he recalled from memory and expressed his thoughts on it: "'You can't make space, you can only divide space.' This was a revelation."[10]  Conclusively, Bochner's process references that of LeWitt and exemplifies a methodical use of measurements, text, and shapes as tools for generating complex systems that restructure an existing space into a new experience.


[1] Anna Richardson. "Naming Game," Design Week 24, no. 30 (July 30, 2009): 28.

[2] Barry Schwabsky. "Words For Art," Art in America 97, no. 2 (February 2009): 39.

[3] Janet Zweig. "Ars Combinatoria: Mystical Systems, Procedural Art, and the Computer," Art Journal 56, no. 3 (Autumn, 1997): 27.

[4] Mark Prince, "If the Colour Changes," Art Monthly 362 (December 2012/January 2013): 25.

[5] Prince, "If the Colour Changes," 26.

[6] Mel Bochner, "Why Would Anyone Want to Draw on the Wall?" October 130 (Fall 2009): 140.

[7] Alexander Kranjec. "Thought Is a Material: Talking with Mel Bochner about Space, Art, and Language," Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 25, no. 25 (December 2013): 2015.

[8] Kranjec. "Thought Is a Material," 2019.

[9] Kranjec. "Thought Is a Material," 2017.

[10] Kranjec. "Thought Is a Material," 2019.