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Mel Bochner: If The Colour Changes

‘Blah, blah, blah,’ are the words that greet you as you enter Mel Bochner’s exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery, the artist’s first major survey show in the UK. But this painting is far from blah: the words are repeated over and over again in shouty block capitals dripping with colour on tactile velvet. It’s an abrupt and exuberant salutation that almost belies the intellectual rigour behind it. For over four decades, Bochner has explored systems of meaning in his work, looking at language, typography, and colour, among other things, inviting us to think about the way each communicates meaning and how we in turn process it.

One of the founding fathers of conceptual art, Bochner emerged in the 1960s alongside luminaries Sol LeWitt, Eva Hesse and Robert Smithson. Born in Pittsburgh to a sign-painter father, Bochner studied fine arts at the Carnegie Institute of Technology. Following stints in Mexico and San Francisco, Bochner moved to New York in 1964 and worked as a guard at the Jewish Museum before becoming an artist. One of his most important early works was Working Drawings and Other Visible Things on Paper Not Necessarily Meant To Be Viewed as Art (1966): bound Xeroxed copies of collected drawings and notes by friends including Donald Judd and John Cage and placed on pedestals in a gallery, now considered a paragon of 60s conceptual art...

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