Art Review: Mel Bochner @ Whitechapel Gallery

The Whitechapel Gallery presents a retrospective of the varied and lengthy career of the American conceptual artist Mel Bochner. On first entering the gallery viewers are confronted by a large painting full of bright colours chaotically arranged. Normally these would be signs of a work screaming to get its message across, yet the canvas is only populated by the word ‘blah’. It highlights Bochner’s sense of humour and can be seen as a comment on the current contemporary art scene where works are often visually arresting but lack a deeper meaning.

The exhibition then meanders through Bochner’s artistic experiments. This feels a little fragmented but only mirrors the divergences that Bochner’s career undertook. Some of his forays feel a little underdeveloped, the drawings of cubic structures that change when seen from different angles try to drive home the message that observation is all about perspective, but they are far too subtle to fully resonate with the viewer.

Other works are sublime. His use of vaseline and shaving foam to cover glass plates and then take photographs of them as a light shines through is both magical and mesmerising, and reminiscent of the excellent photographs being produced by Rinko Kawauchi today.

The room that will undoubtedly get the most attention is full of brightly coloured large-scale works, where different interpretations of one word are written end to end across the space. They are a nod to the almost inconsequential differences that can impact on major decisions, but having many similar paintings side by side does lessen their impact. However, the work based around the word ‘silence’ is very fitting for a gallery.

Bochner’s career has been extremely varied and this is a chance to see a mixture of his works that will leave visitors perplexed and inspired in equal measure.

Mel Bochner: If the Colour Changes is on display at the Whitechapel Gallery until 30 December. Admission is free.

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