Category Archives: Design

Colors, Concepts and Typography in Mel Bochner’s Fine Art

By Lecia Bushak, REA Intern

Are words objective?  Is language effective in transmitting thoughts and ideas… or is it just as ephemeral as the thoughts that support it?  These are questions that Mel Bochner has explored in his art for the past 40+ years.  After receiving a BFA from Carnegie Mellon, he studied Philosophy at Northwestern and later taught Art History at SVA, as well as served as adjunct professor at Yale University.  He is the kind of guy who exemplifies the artist as both writer and philosopher, and whom you might expect to see with a Thesaurus under his arm (you’ll see why below).

Bochner is one of the most influential Conceptual artists to emerge from the 1960s.  Analytics, seriality, numbers, and language suddenly came to the forefront of art-making during this time.  Minimal works that emphasized the logical, philosophical, and mathematical rather than sensual perception, beauty, and aesthetic pleasure became the ideal form of art.  Bochner explores such arenas in his work–but what differentiates him from most Conceptual artists is his emphasis on color and visual affect.  These things are usually shed from Conceptual or Minimal works to enhance the importance of the idea rather than aesthetics.  But Bochner is able to smartly tie the two together.

In her review of the show for Art in America, Eleanor Heartney wrote: “In Bochner’s work, perception constantly trumps idea, reaffirming the artist’s belief that the sensuous is an essential element in even the most conceptual art.”

Bochner, Split Infinity

Portrait of Eva Hesse, 1966

Bochner seems to be drilling into the heart of what words mean and how they erect our perceptions of ideas/feelings, our relationships with other people, and society.  In Portrait of Eva Hesse, Bochner used words to construct the portrait of fellow artist and sculptor Eva Hesse.  He chose to center the piece around the word “wrap,” referring to the rounded objects often comprising her sculptural work.  The words circling the center are all synonyms of “wrap,” constructing a verbal–yet visual–“portrait” of her.  Each word brings to mind a different concept, idea, or feeling–and we link them in some way to Hesse and/or her work.  Each word is a new perspective, a lens through which we try to define her as a person–yet no one word can fully and accurately encapsulate her person as a whole.

Perhaps Bochner’s fascination with language in art stems from his experience writing for art publications in order to support himself in New York City when he first moved there in 1967.  Back then, artists didn’t write about their work or other artists; fine art and writing were two completely separate disciplines.  Bringing writing into art and vice versa was considered an impure meddling of the arts, so Bochner was criticized by other artists for “turning to the dark side” and producing art reviews, criticisms, and philosophical/conceptual texts.  Now, however, it’s quite normal and actually expected of artists to write–about their work, about other art, and about ideas in general.  Bochner was one of the first to begin that tradition.

Language is Not Transparent, 1970

This leads us to what many consider his “manifesto”–Language is Not Transparent, 1970.  Direct and straightforward, Bochner declares language as being ephemeral, subjective and often inaccurate when it comes to communicating or portraying thoughts and ideas.  Yet even in this earlier piece, Bochner is drawn to an aesthetic approach–the graffiti-esque scrawl on the black block of paint, the paint drips that lead the eye down to the floor, etc.  Where purists might find a problem with mixing aesthetics and concept,  Bochner proves that doing so can actually be quite successful.

Catherine Wagley on the Art:21 blog writes: “[L]anguage isn’t transparent and, if it ever brings you to meaning, it takes a lot of detours on the way.”


I find his later works even more appealing than his earlier works, simply because of my guilty pleasure of staring at pretty colors.  His concepts remain just as strong in his later days, as he continues to explore words and their synonyms, but also brings color into the picture: How does color affect the meaning of the word and also our perception of it?  He complicates his original concept by bringing in aspects that both attend to the senses and the intellect (we might have gotten bored rather quickly if he had stuck to the Conceptualist dogma of stark aesthetics).

The later works, on top of being both conceptually provocative and aesthetically pleasing, play with my mood and emotions as well.  The words themselves, such as in Irascible (above) and No (below), somehow pointedly “get” to a certain part of me that’s not quite rational, but which has certainly felt all of those things before: whether it’s listless, crabby, or just plain old “blah.”  Somehow, comparing and contrasting the synonyms for a certain feeling like “lazy” or “irritable” intrigues both my brain and my emotions.  For an artwork to be strong in all three (often conflicting) areas of aesthetics, concepts and emotions, it is, in my mind, a successful piece.

Even if you're not much of a Conceptualist, you've definitely felt like this before. Bochner is almost making fun of that lazy part in all of us--in a sympathetic way.



Marina Abramovic: Life as Art

By Jess Wertheim, REA Intern

Is there a difference between life and art?  The famed performance artist Marina Abramović doesn’t think so.  For her, “performance becomes life itself…performance becomes life and life becomes art.”  A good friend of hers once said, “Marina is never not performing.”

Both daring and extreme, Marina Abramović pushes boundaries in the most surprising ways possible.  She risks her life on a regular basis, all in the name of art.  Everything she does provokes deep inner emotions in others as they watch and/or interact with her.  So much so that people question how what she does is art?

Her exhibit back in 2010 at the Museum of Modern Art titled The Artist Is Present was unlike anything I had ever seen before.  Upon entering the exhibit there were photographs hanging on the walls with descriptions of the performances while some projectors hung from the ceiling, playing other performances of hers in a loop.  For example, one video showed the artist lying on the ground, screaming.  The description read, “The artist screamed until she lost her voice.”  In another video, she violently brushes her hair while making frustrated, angry sounds.  In one piece called “Rest Energy”, she and her lover faced one another and held a large bow and arrow together. While she held the bow, he pulled the string backwards, aiming the arrow toward her heart.

For a piece that she did in 1973 titled “Rhythm 10” she played music from a tape recorder while one hand was spread open on the floor.  She took a knife in her other hand and to the rhythm of the music stabbed at the spaces in between her fingers and changed to a bigger knife each time she stabbed herself.  Many of her works were disturbing such as this one.

There were also two live aspects to the exhibit.  One was the naked man and woman standing in the entranceway of the gallery that led into the next gallery.  In order to proceed, it was necessary for one to pass through them, and most likely rub against them due to the small space.

The main attraction was of course, Ms. Abramović herself.  She sat at a small wooden table in the lobby of the museum across from an empty seat.  One at a time people were encouraged to take a seat across from her and sit silently without talking, touching or any explicit communication.  Her goal was “to achieve a luminous state of being and then transmit it—to engage in what she calls ‘an energy dialogue’ with the audience.” She did this all day, every day until the exhibit closed.  Appropriately called The Artist Is Present, the piece was the “longest-duration solo work of [her] career, and by far the most physically and emotionally demanding she [had] ever attempted.”  Art critic Arthur Danto observed The Artist Is Present exemplifies a completely new experience in the history of art.  “For most masterpieces people stand in front of it for thirty seconds. Mona Lisa: Thirty seconds. But people come and sit here all day.”  This performance demonstrated Ms. Abramović’s statement about long-durational work might be true after all: “Performance becomes life itself.”

Abstract Designs of Louis Reith

Inspiration and Advice from Sol LeWitt

Detailed, painstaking, strangely liberating.  These terms have often been used to describe Sol LeWitt’s large drawings and paintings that span entire walls in some of the most well-known museums in the world.  LeWitt came up with the concept behind the work, then employed hundreds of working artists, art students and art historians to execute them–allowing his works to be subject to new and unexpected changes throughout the process.

In this way, “each instantiation, each iteration, is a new interpretation, as is a new performance of a musical score” (Dia: Beacon, Riggio Galleries).

A New York Times article written after LeWitt’s death stated, “…Mr. LeWitt gently reminded everybody that architects are called artists — good architects, anyway — even though they don’t lay their own bricks, just as composers write music that other people play but are still musical artists. Mr. LeWitt, by his methods, permitted other people to participate in the creative process, to become artists themselves.”

LeWitt offers a refreshing approach to art, especially in some of his personal writing.  In a letter to fellow artist Eva Hesse, LeWitt wrote: “Stop it and just DO.  Try and tickle something inside you, your ‘weird humor.’ You belong in the most secret part of you. Don’t worry about cool, make your own uncool… You are not responsible for the world — you are only responsible for your work, so do it. And don’t think that your work has to conform to any idea or flavor. It can be anything you want it to be.”

LeWitt started out as a graphic designer for the architect I.M. Pei, and later drew on this background to form his signature solid-colored, flat painting and drawing style.  Many of his earlier works were devoid of colors; later he switched to adding more colors and curves to his pieces in the 1980’s.  People questioned why the stark conceptualist suddenly switched, and he responded, “Why not?”

“A life in art is an unimaginable and unpredictable experience” (Sol LeWitt).

A Note to Our Readers

This blog has grown a lot since we started it in May 2011, and we wanted to thank all our readers who have kept us going!  You should “Like” us on Facebook, and take a peek at our redesigned website (we have to admit, it’s rather impressive).

We welcome your comments and feedback on our portfolio, website redesign, and blog posts.


The Real Estate Arts team

Olafur Eliasson: the Architect’s Artist

By Lecia Bushak, REA Intern

In today’s technologically-driven world, a contemporary artist must often be a hybrid of many disciplines: architect, philosopher, engineer; something like a 21st century Leonardo da Vinci.

Olafur Eliasson is a Danish-Icelandic artist who creates immersive environments that mirror extreme landscapes and atmospheres.  Through the use of geometric constructions, light projections, mirrors, water, and other natural elements, Eliasson’s works transform the gallery space into a sensory experience.  He works closely with architects in various fields–including landscape architects and architecture theorists.

You may recall him as the artist who created the New York City waterfalls a few years back — he currently runs a studio called Studio Olafur Eliasson in Berlin.  It’s a laboratory for “spatial research” with a team of 30 architects, engineers, craftsmen, and assistants who work together on sculptures, installations, and commissions.

Façade for Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre, 2011

Quasi Brick Wall, 2002

Take your time, 2008

Take Your Time – A 1,000-lb mirror was mounted on the ceiling at MoMA P.S.1 and rotated at one revolution per minute in order to destabilize the viewer’s notion of space as they walked, lay, or sat beneath it.

The Weather Project, 2003

The Weather Project was installed in London’s Tate Modern as part of the Unilever series.  The installation filled all of Turbine Hall.  Eliasson used humidifiers to create a fine mist, and hung a semi-circle of hundreds of monochromatic lamps radiating single frequency yellow light near the ceiling.  The ceiling itself was covered with huge mirrors, reflecting the semi-circle to create the illusion of a full sun.  The result had the quality of an atmospheric, surreal mirage.

Umschreibung, 2004

Umshreibung, which means “Rewriting” was built in the courtyard of KPMG–a global accounting firm–in Munich.  The stairs are 9 meters high; the spiral is a beautiful intertwining of art and architecture.

Your rainbow panorama, 2006-2011

Your rainbow panorama is a transparent glass ring constructed on top of the ARoS Museum of Art in Aarhus, Denmark.  Every color in the spectrum is represented in the glass; each color thus marks the physical location of the viewer, acting as a visual compass.

Hotel Silken Puerta América Madrid

By Jessica Wertheim, REA Intern

How does the hotelier make his hotel the most desirable, beautiful, and unique in an extremely competitive crowd?  Does he hire the best architect and design studio?  What about bringing together 19 of the top architecture and design studios, from thirteen different countries?  That is exactly what the development did for the Hotel Silken Puerta América Madrid in Madrid, Spain.

Each floor of the hotel has a unique concept and is designed by a different architect.  From the moment the elevator doors open on a new floor, a new story and adventure begins.  The guest is invited not only to view, but also to explore and interact with the space – to look, to touch, to smell.

Unlike most hotels where each room and floor is virtually identical to the other, the designs of this hotel differentiate one room from another.  The uniqueness of each room reflects the overall themes of the hotel – individuality, culture, and freedom.

Let’s take a closer look at a few of the floors:

Hotel Garage (Teresa Sapey): Brightly-colored walls and text graphics set the tone for the rest of the hotel.  The words that form the finger pointing to the exits, a person walking a dog, and a person in a wheelchair are all from a poem called “Libertad” (freedom in Spanish) by Paul Éluard, Sapey’s main source of inspiration.

Sapey intends to tell an emotional story about the right of every person to live life to the fullest.  “It is to move emotions that I work with spaces,” Sapey said. “I’d go for provoking just about any kind of feeling, no matter what it is… [A]rchitecture should provide a varied range of sentiments to be considered both inspiring and useful.”

Floor 1 (Zaha Hadid): Hadid was the first woman recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize in the award’s then 25-year history; and, after exploring the first floor, it is no surprise to understand why the jury selected her.  Curvy lines create the flow and movement of the space.  The snow-white corridor produces a dream-like, fictional world, free of distractions, open for imagination.  Once stepping out of the elevator, one enters a clean, well-lit space.  Curved benches extend from the walls, illuminated by a twisted lamp that hangs from the ceiling and slowly changes color as time passes.

A unique feature is the guest-controlled messages that appear on the outside of the door.  For example, if a guest wants to sleep in, he can project the word “privacy”; he can also project “breakfast” to have a meal delivered to the room in the morning; or even “repair” if something needs to be fixed.

Floor 4 (Plasma Studio): Floor four is a visually and architecturally complex space that plays with geometry and brings the meaning of three-dimensional to a whole new level.  The studio used a “repetitive rhythm of partition walls, service ducts and entrance doors as a sectional framework.” Dramatic geometric shapes, built entirely out of steel, are suggestive of spaceship panels; color-changing LED lights outlining the shapes provide a fictitious feel.

Floor 8 (Kathryn Findlay): Kathryn Findlay believes “architecture’s success depends on the convergence of all the elements integrated within the work: external aspects, internal space, structure, environment and location.”  She has worked extensively on the integration between technology and architecture – the way in which technological advances influence design and the final product – and continues to explore and incorporate that combination on the 8th floor.

For this project, she collaborated with a lighting designer, Jason Bruges.  The two decided that the guest should play and interact with the space.  In order to achieve this, they had fiber optic panels constructed for the lobby of the floor, which capture the movement of the guest and then project a distorted image above the panels with some points of color.   The walls react to the movement of people walking in front of them; the bedroom numbers are light projections in front of the door.  The rooms are completely white – the furniture, the walls, the curtains.  It is a place of meditation, peace, and silence.

Floor 5 (Victorio & Lucchino): This comfy and serene space welcomes guests with warm colors and textured fabrics.

Floor 9 (Richard Gluckman): Inspired by the concept of a “box within a box”, Gluckman strives to deliver to the guests an experience entirely different from that of their home; cement ceilings and walls highlight this attempt.  The result is an industrial-looking space.

The Hotel Silken Puerta América Madrid is simply “the best in avant-garde design and architecture, where creativity and the freedom to develop each of the spaces has been the hallmark.”

Now, does that scream original or what?