Mel Bochner Value: Top Prices Paid at Auction

Written by - Sheena Carrington
An abstract blue background with smeared white paint horizontally across it. The words “It doesn't get any better than this’’ are written in capital letters, slanting upwards. The dripping white paint creates a light blue hue against the dark background.It Doesn't Get Any Better Than This © Mel Bochner 2014
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Mel Bochner, an esteemed American conceptual artist, captivates audiences with his diverse use of materials and unique interpretation of language as a visual experience. His text-based works stand as his highest-selling pieces, intriguing viewers with their intricate and compelling nature. Despite market fluctuations, Bochner's art sales remain consistently strong, highlighting the enduring appeal and investment potential of his works. His unique prints, known for their exceptional craftsmanship, have achieved remarkable success alongside his paintings. Bochner's international appeal further solidifies his influential position in contemporary art, as his works resonate with collectors in the United States, Europe, and Asia.

£158,000 for Chuckle

(KRW 250,000,000)

An abstract background featuring horizontal delineations with a mix of discernible words and random letters.Image © K-Auction / Chuckle © Mel Bochner 2014

Chuckle (2014) signifies a noteworthy achievement in Mel Bochner's artistic journey, establishing his auction record. Crafted using oil paint on velvet, Bochner first creates a digital engraving to construct a stencil that shapes the desired words. This stencil is then gently transferred onto the velvet canvas, acting as a guide for the precise manual application of paint. Through a conscious exertion of pressure, the artwork forms, generating textural variations that challenge the traditional artistic techniques employed on canvas.

Characterised by horizontal segments of abstract hues, Chuckle invites viewers to decipher its enigmatic message: certain lines reveal legible words, while others beckon interpretation from the viewer's imagination. This intricacy and allure epitomise Bochner's artistic repertoire, necessitating engagement from the viewer.

Chuckle achieved an impressive sale price of £158,000 (hammer) in July 2021 at K-Auction in South Korea, making it Mel Bochner's highest-selling work to date.

£150,439 for Blah, Blah, Blah

($187,500 USD)

Abstract artwork with multiple shades of blue paint pouring from the top edge of the canvas and dripping downwards, forming the repeated words "Blah, Blah, Blah" within the dripped paint.Image © Phillips / Blah, Blah, Blah © Mel Bochner 2010

Created in 2010, Blah, Blah, Blah was prominently featured in Mel Bochner's Photographs and Not Photographs 1966-2010 exhibition at Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco. The captivating and visceral effect of the dripping blue paint on the repeating text deliberately aims to convey nothingness to the viewer. This challenging and complex artwork compels viewers to engage with the recognisability of the words, ultimately highlighting the irony of associating them with emptiness, as indicated by the repeated word “Blah.’’

Bochner's practice entices viewers to transcend the contextual meaning of words and perceive the artwork as a whole, encompassing object: language and materiality, leading to a conceptual understanding. Blah, Blah, Blah is Mel Bochner's second highest-selling work achieving a price of £150,439 (fees included) at Phillips in July 2020.

£110,399 for Blah, Blah, Blah

($137,500 USD)

Two large-scale canvases, displayed in a white gallery space, hang side by side. Each canvas features the repeated words "Blah, Blah, Blah" from top to bottom. The individual letters are presented in diverse colours, juxtaposed against a vibrant and abstract background with splashes of colour.Image © Phillips / Blah, Blah, Blah © Mel Bochner 2012

Blah, Blah, Blah (2012) holds a prominent position within Mel Bochner's acclaimed Blah series, standing as his highest-selling print. Presented as a diptych, this captivating artwork comprises two expansive pieces crafted through collage and engraving techniques. The word “Blah’’ is prominently featured in a deliberate arrangement of three columns in each of the two works, allowing viewers to easily engage with the repetition. The abstracted splashes of colour that form the backdrop add visual interest and depth to the composition, further enhancing its overall impact.

The notable texture of the letters is evident with vibrant variations of colour. Bochner emphasises the dynamic relationship between language and colour and how each element evokes a visceral engaging response in viewers. Blah, Blah, Blah achieved a sale price of £110,399 (fees included) at Phillips New York in November 2016, solidifying its esteemed position as Mel Bochner's third top-selling work.

£101,033 for Blah, Blah, Blah

($126,000 USD)

Two large canvases, exhibited in a white gallery, are positioned adjacent to each other. The words "Blah, Blah, Blah" are repeated vertically on each canvas. The letters are depicted in a variety of colours, contrasting against a lively and abstract backdrop with colourful splashes.Image © Sotheby's / Blah, Blah, Blah © Mel Bochner 2008

Blah, Blah, Blah (2008) is one of Mel Bochner's early contributions to his renowned Blah series. This large-scale oil on canvas is immersed in a rich midnight blue, serving as the backdrop for Bochner's distinctive capital letters in varying shades of cerulean and arctic blue, achieved through a skilful blend of whitewash. Deviating from his customary structured arrangement, Bochner applies the words in an upward slant. The deliberate placement of commas and generous empty spaces evokes a sense of erasure, inviting contemplation and intrigue about what is missing.

While enigmatic and conceptual, Bochner's work possesses an undeniable allure, challenging viewers to uncover deeper meanings. Blah, Blah, Blah recently achieved a remarkable sale price of £101,033 (fees included) at Sotheby's in May 2022, solidifying its position among Mel Bochner's most sought-after creations.

£90,000 for Amazing

(£90,000)

Large, bold, and colourful text fills the painting from the top left corner to the bottom right corner. The words are positive affirmations that inspire and uplift. They are set against a background with abstract warm and cool tones, creating a visually captivating composition.Image © Phillips / Amazing © Mel Bochner 2018

Amazing (2018), one of Mel Bochner's later creations, exudes an optimistic and engaging spirit, offering relief through its uplifting words. The canvas is adorned with one-word literary expressions of positivity, including “Amazing! Awesome! Breathtaking! Heartstopping!’’ Placed against an abstracted warm blotched colour palette, these words resonate with optimism and inspiration. As one's gaze descends towards the bottom of the canvas, Bochner infuses his signature tongue-in-cheek humour by incorporating slang terms such as "Crazy! Killer! Bitchin! Radical!" against abstracted cooler tones. These words possess a slightly more edgy and contemporary vibe, yet they still contribute to the overall uplifting sentiment of the piece.

In this work, the words flow seamlessly and coherently, allowing for a clear and uninterrupted reading experience. Bochner employs a diverse range of language that resonates with various age groups, imbuing the artwork with positivity and vibrancy through its message and colourful palette. Amazing holds a prominent position among Mel Bochner's top-selling works and is also his second highest-selling print achieving a sale price of £90,000 (fees included) at Phillips in September 2019.

£86,958 for Head Honcho

($100,800 USD)

Bold, large letters dominate the canvas, presenting titles that evoke authority, control, and action. These phrases are arranged from the top left corner to the bottom right, capturing attention and commanding presence. The warm-toned abstract background adds depth and visual interest, complementing the powerful nature of the text.Image © Sotheby’s / Head Honcho © Mel Bochner 2010

Head Honcho (2010), an exceptional print work by Mel Bochner, has secured its place as one of his best-selling pieces in the secondary market. Employing collage, engraving, and embossing techniques, this unique artwork showcases a warm and abstracted backdrop adorned with powerful phrases that exude authority and control. In the lower half of the canvas, Bochner transitions to action-oriented statements, evoking a sense of assertiveness and dominance. Notably, the final phrase, “Hand Gotcha by the Balls,’’ adds a playful and provocative twist, metaphorically presented as a question and invites viewers to engage with the artwork on a deeper level.

This work combines humour, optimism, and audacity, blending abstraction with conceptualism. Head Honcho achieved an impressive sale price of £86,958 (fees included) at Sotheby's in October 2022, further cementing its success in the art market.

£85,882 for HA HA HA

($945,000 HKD)

Vibrant and colourful capital letters, "ha ha ha," fill the canvas in rows that stretch from the top to the bottom, creating a scrolling marquee effect. The letters command attention with their boldness and playfulness, while the abstracted background adds depth and visual interest to the composition.Image © Phillips / HA HA HA © Mel Bochner 2019

Highlighting Mel Bochner's global appeal and the investment potential of his diverse artistic mediums, HA HA HA (2019) exemplifies his successful art market performance in Asia. This unique print work achieved a sale price of £68,160 (fees included) at Phillips Hong Kong in June 2021.

In this piece, Bochner displays his mastery of collage to meticulously arrange the word ”HA‘‘ in a visually captivating composition. Spanning the entire artwork, the six rows feature each ”H‘‘ and ”A‘‘ neatly aligned in columns. The individual letters are infused with vibrant and playful colours, enhancing the artwork's allure. Notably, the deliberate cropping of the outer letters in each row elicits the mesmerising effect of a moving marquee sign, immersing viewers in an endless and hypnotic scrolling text. This intentional artistic choice encourages viewers to transcend the mere definition of the word and instead engage with the work as a profound artistic expression.

£82,550 for Oh Well

(£82,550)

 Vibrant and brightly coloured words fill the canvas from top to bottom, displaying nuanced phrases of unpredictability. The diverse range of colours and bold lettering adds visual impact, while the abstracted background creates a dynamic and engaging composition.Image © Sotheby’s / Oh Well © Mel Bochner 2014

Oh Well (2014), a contemplative masterpiece by Mel Bochner, offers a nuanced perspective that goes beyond the boundaries of positivity and negativity. It embraces the inherent unpredictability of encountered circumstances and the acceptance of inevitable disappointments. Interestingly, Bochner chose to employ velvet as the medium for this artwork, adding an ironic layer to the creative process. The application of paint on this textured surface creates organic and unpredictable effects, reflecting the complexities of the conveyed messages.

Through its candid and light-hearted portrayal of circumstances, Oh Well invites viewers to contemplate their own expectations and confront the inherent limitations of language. The artwork achieved a notable sale of £82,550 (fees included) at Sotheby's in April 2023, solidifying its significance within Mel Bochner's esteemed body of work.

£80,138 for Blah, Blah, Blah

(€91,250 EUR )

Four horizontal rows of large, uniformly sized letters spell out the word "BLAH" in different vibrant colours. The distinct colours of each row create a visually striking and harmonious composition.Image © Ketterer Kunst GmbH / Blah, Blah, Blah © Mel Bochner 2014

Blah Blah Blah (2014), included in Mel Bochner's most popular works on the market, conveys a sense of monotony and insignificance through the repetitive use of the word. However, this composition gains visual intrigue and complexity from the diverse colours and vibrant background hues, which exhibit evident textural variations.

The deliberate arrangement of the words and the contrasting background colours prompt viewers to engage with the artwork as a visual encounter rather than simply a linguistic interpretation. By presenting the word “Blah’’ in different colours and separating them with distinct horizontal lines, Bochner directs attention to the interplay between the text and the surrounding space. This juxtaposition results in a dynamic and visually stimulating composition.

Through his work, Bochner continuously challenges our understanding of language and invites us to explore the visual elements of communication. By surpassing traditional linguistic interpretations and encouraging us to appreciate the painting as a unified entity, the artist stimulates contemplation on the connections between language, colour, and visual aesthetics. The success of Blah Blah Blah works in the art market further attests to Mel Bochner's international acclaim. This work, in particular, achieved a notable sale at the German auction house Ketterer Kunst GmbH in December 2017, reaching £80,138 (fees included). It remains one of his top-selling works, solidifying its significance within his oeuvre.

£77,338 for Oh Well

($100,000 USD)

A grey abstract background with horizontal rows of large grey and silver letters that spell out various consoling phrases for unpredictable events. The phrases provide a sense of comfort and understanding in the face of uncertainty.Image © Sotheby’s / Oh Well © Mel Bochner © 2014

Another exquisite addition to Mel Bochner's Oh Well series, this particular artwork, executed on velvet, showcases a harmonious blend of nuanced phrases that eloquently embody the inherent ambiguity and unpredictability of the artistic process. The work emanates a liberating and nonchalant aura through its language, while the use of velvet and the sleek grey palette infuse it with a touch of kitsch and opulence. This artful combination of elements has propelled the piece to rank among Bochner's top ten best-selling works, as evidenced by its successful sale at Sotheby's in March 2020, fetching an impressive £77,338 (fees included).

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