Mel Bochner

Win! (2009)

Acrylic on Wall
38 feet 2 inches by 33 feet 3 inches

Located on Cement Block Walls Opposite NE Monumental Stairs

Mel Bochner uses words in the same way that a painter uses colors—to get viewers to see subtle differences between similar things.

Win! (2009) begins simply with the word for what every fan wants his team to do, whether he’s screaming it on Sunday or reading it in the headlines of Monday’s paper. Simplicity disappears with the next word: “Vanquish” takes “win” to extremes, suggesting the overpowering of an utterly defeated foe. “Conquer” adds notions of control and possession to the rapidly growing mixture of meanings. Then “Clobber!,” “Drub!,” and “Rout!” evoke the exaggerated language of comic strips as they also recall the clichés often typed by sportswriters.

At this point, viewers have only made it through one-quarter of Bochner’s surprisingly dense work. To read the rest, which takes less than 10 seconds, is to see the language get increasingly colorful—eventually taking on a life of its own.

Win! is the biggest work in Bochner’s ongoing series of Thesaurus Paintings. This body of work focuses on the ways language both conveys and derails meaning. Bochner has used words in his works since the late 1960s, when, as an original member of the conceptual art movement, he became fascinated with their power and mystery.

Unlike sporting contests, which end with the black-and-white clarity of a win or a loss, Bochner’s pedestrian poetry takes us into the gray areas, where shades of meaning are as important to the message as what it literally communicates.

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