If the Color Changes

Mel Bochner (American, born 1940), 2001
Monoprint with embossment
2001.25.2
Gift of the Art History Department

Bochner is one of the leading artists associated with the development known as Conceptual Art. In classic Conceptual Art, the idea precedes its representation; a written idea or number sequence determines the work’s outcome. During the 1960s and 1970s, Conceptual artists turned to “non-visual” forms, including writing, to record their ideas. By contrast, Bochner has always infused his Conceptualism with a strongly visual component.

The series If the Color Changes exemplifies this synthetic approach.

The project was inspired by a quotation from Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Remarks on Color (1950-51). As one of the premier language philosophers,

Wittgenstein (Austrian, 1889-1951) has long been a major source for many Conceptualists. Yet the translation of his thought into art is not straightforward, since Wittgenstein’s writings question language’s ability to convey what we see. A simple image—for example, “blue vase”—becomes the pretext for a dizzying language game. Is the blue a sensation, a word on a page, a thought in one’s mind, an intrinsic quality of the vase?

Appropriately, If the Color Changes depicts the impossibility of translation—of what we see into words, of one language into another. The overlap of the German and English versions of the text causes a mental disconnect as one attempts to hold both in one’s mind. Which is the “true” representation of Wittgenstein’s statement? Neither, and both.