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Artist

Mel Bochner (1940-)

Title

Stupid

Date

2003

Medium

Oil, acrylic, and fabricated chalk on canvas

Dimensions

Overall: 45 × 60 in. (114.3 × 152.4 cm)

Credit line

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase, with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee

Accession number

2004.48

Object Label

In his paintings and prints from the 1990s onward, Mel Bochner placed a key word—usually a pejorative noun, adjective, or verb—in the upper-left-hand corner. From this primary word (for example, “stupid” in this work), Bochner unfurled rows of synonyms in contrasting colors sourced from the most recent edition of Roget’s Thesaurus. These works were not Bochner’s first to utilize the thesaurus as an artistic tool; in the mid-1960s, he used it to create word portraits of artist friends Eva Hesse, Ad Reinhardt, Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Robert Smithson, and Sol LeWitt, making symbolic rather than representational depictions of them. Stupid likewise suggests an addressee, but he or she remains intentionally anonymous. Moreover, its sometimes vulgar and largely colloquial units of language point to common, generic usage and application. While the words can be read and interpreted, they also act as visual abstractions, to be viewed in formal terms.