Mel Bochner - New Now Day Sale New York Sunday, February 28, 2016 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Sonnabend, New York

  • Exhibited

    Paris, Galerie Georges-Philippe & Nathalie Vallois, Entre La Géometrie Et Le Geste, 1965-1975, Oeuvres sur papier par: Mel Bochner, Eva Hesse, Barry Le Va, Bruce Nauman, Alan Saret, Richard Serra, Robert Smithson, Keith Sonnier et Richard Tuttle, September 15, 1990 - October 30, 1990, p. 7 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    From corner to corner, side to side and up and down, a series of numbers float elegantly across the paper in Mel Bochner’s Counting Alternatives (The Wittgenstein Illustrations), 1972. A pioneer of Conceptual art, Bochner found a level of comfort in the certainty of a grid and within the universal language of numbers, often using only letters or numbers as the aesthetic embodiment of his subject matter. Radiating out like a star from the number 26, both upwards to 53 and down to zero, Counting Alternatives (The Wittgenstein Illustrations), 1972 is Bochner’s artistic attempt to illustrate the famous 20th century philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstin’s collection of notes, On Certainty.

    The idea for the Counting Alternatives series first came to Bochner when he saw an advertisement for an illustrated copy of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Bochner immediately went out to purchase a copy and was disappointed to find that the only illustration in the book was an engraving of Kant’s portrait. This led him to ponder what illustrations of philosophy would look like and how one would go about illustrating a philosophical idea. Wittgenstein spent much of his work debunking the theories of other philosophers and discussing questions of language and how one uses it. His work On Certainty was compiled posthumously from his notebooks and explores the relationship between knowledge and doubt. This resonated with the young Bochner at the time, as he was constantly confronted with doubt in his own artwork. His works in this series typically have a grid and a sequence of numbers, the grid represent certainty and unchanging rules while the numeric sequences represent decisions made in a context of uncertainty. Over 40 years later, this series remains one of the few successful attempts made by an artist to illustrate a philosophical text, and this specific piece is a graceful and superb example of Bochner’s early work.

Property from an Important Parisian Collection


Counting Alternatives Series (The Wittgenstein Illustrations)

colored pencil and felt-tip pen on paper
29 7/8 x 22 in. (76 x 56 cm)

$20,000 - 30,000 

Contact Specialist
Rebekah Bowling
Head of Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1250

New Now Day Sale

New York Auction 29 February 2016 11am