Mel Bochner was born in Pittsburgh in 1940. In high school, he won early recognition for his talent from The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, and in 1962 he earned a BFA from the Carnegie Institute of Technology. After graduating, Bochner went out to San Francisco, then traveled around Mexico. When he later visited a friend in Chicago, he decided to philosophy at Northwestern University. But after finding himself drawn to the paintings in the Art Institute, he decided to commit to being an artist. He moved to New York in 1964, and was recruited to teach art history at the School of Visual Arts.
His 1966 show, Working Drawings And Other Visible Things On Paper Not Necessarily Meant To Be Viewed As Art, is regarded as a seminal show in the conceptual art movement. Bochner photocopied his friends' working drawings, including a $3,051.16 fabricator's bill from Donald Judd. He collected the copies and displayed them on four binders situated on four pedestals.
Bochner started to make paintings in the late 1970s. These works consisted of colorful pieces featuring words as well as works more clearly connected to the conceptual art that he pioneered. The overriding question at the heart of his projects have been: What ideologies are hidden in everyday language? In the wake of abstract expressionism artists felt there was little to add to painting. Bochner responded in a way that prioritized thinking over making. He started to find clearer ways of looking at art, questioning how the viewer experiences depth, perspective and space. Bochner went on to explore language and color in a similar way.
Bochner taught at Yale University as a teacher's assistant in 1979 as senior critic in painting/printmaking, and in 2001 as adjunct professor. In 2005 he received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from the School of Art at Carnegie Mellon University. His work is represented in many public collections around the world, including Tate Modern, London; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.
He lives and works in New York City.