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Bochner, a pioneer of post-minimal and conceptual art, turned to photography in 1966 to document his installations of serially arranged blocks, but he soon realized that photography deserved exploration in its own right.

To explore the workings of perspective through the lens, Bochner laid down grids of tape, photographed them, and subjected the results to destructive and reconstructive processes. This culminated in Surface Dis/Tension, one of his most ambitious photographs in both scale and complexity. As Scott Rothkopf explains in the catalogue for the exhibition of Bochner’s photographs, presented at Harvard in 2002:

Bochner created the image by soaking a photograph of one-point perspective in water until he could remove the top layer of silver salts from the dissolved paper support. After carefully peeling off this fine surface, Bochner hung it on a line to dry, causing numerous wrinkles and puckers. He then rephotographed this flayed skin of his earlier photograph and printed the image in both positive and negative on the same piece of paper. By slightly shifting the position of the paper in the middle of the two-part printing process, Bochner achieved the look of high-contrast solarization to give the surface its textured appearance.

The piece is a milestone of photographic innovation, and has a broader place in the history of postwar art. In its scale, shaped silhouette, and investigation of the grid, it compares to contemporaneous works by Frank Stella and complements his own 1969–1970 wall drawing Theory of Boundaries, given to the National Gallery of Art by the Nancy Lee and Perry Bass Fund. Other works by Bochner in the Gallery’s collection include six drawings from the 1970s, three recent prints, and a smaller photograph from the perspective-grid series, Convex Perspective, 1967, given by Glenstone in honor of Eileen and Michael Cohen.


on verso, across lower bottom in red marker: Surface Dis/Tension 1967 [the number 7 is scratched out and the number 8 in black pen is written over top] / Mel Bochner / 72" x 70" (ca.); gallery sticker, upper middle: Sonnabend 420 West Broadway NY 10012 / #2590 - Bochner / Surface Distension 1968 / Photographic Paper mounted on Board 72 x 70; exhibition sticker, upper right: The Last Picture Show / Walker Art Center Minneapolis, MN / checklist no. 24 / create no. 63

Exhibition History

Light Years: Conceptual Art and the Photograph, 1965-1977, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, 2011 - 2012, unnumbered catalogue.

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