Sunday, June 2, 2013

Mel Bochner at Peter Freeman—Old School Conceptual Art in Neo Retro Soho

Theory of Syntax #2, 1971. Chalk on floor.

Peter Freeman Gallery has moved into what they call a "classic Soho space" at 140 Grand St. near Crosby, on the border of ChitownLitIt, in a space that used to house a restaurant furnishings business. After dodging the multiple street construction projects that dominate the block, you have to hunt for the front door, which looks like it's been broken into a dozen times; little handprinted signs point you to the handle. Once inside, you'll marvel at the very high ceilings and old, banged up wooden floors splashed with paint. It's actually the perfect setting for an exhibition of Mel Bochner sculptures, Proposition and Process: A Theory of Sculpture (1967-1973), essential examples of conceptualism that simply couldn't be recreated in the type of sterile concrete box so prevalent in the art world now.

Ten, 1971. Stones on floor.
There is a marvelous simplicity to the works in this show (through June 29) dealing with the most fundamental issues of being human—the expression of ideas through language and symbols, the organization of the world around us through measurement and quantification. Bochner uses stones, nuts, glass, and things from the hardware store; drawn chalk elements help tie things together. The chalk, by nature, evokes teaching, demonstration, experimentation, and in a sense, temporary authority, not to mention Joseph Beuys, whose iconic chalkboards were done around the same period. Drawn works, like Theory of Syntax #2, are irresistible for their ingenious plainspoken illustration and visual panache. Two from the Measurement series poke fun at the need to evaluate everything—a guilty-looking bunch of plants sits in front of a line-up style measurement chart, and a ladder's shadow is measured precisely.

Turn sideways, please. Measurement Plants, 1969.
Units of five and 10 refer to the human hand. Ten comprises 10 stones that spell out that numeral. It represents while it is. The ironic icing on the cake is perhaps the price list, which indicates you can have this baby for a mere $115,000. Sure, you could just get your own stones (although I will say these are pretty sweet, as small white stones go) and arrange them as such, but it will never be your idea, will it? In a weird sense, once you've seen the show and looked at the prices, you feel that much richer without having spent a dime because those ideas are now in your head. You bought them with your eyes and your time—one of the beauties of art. 

No comments: