Descending from phrases such as ‘top dog’ and ‘king of the hill’ into macho mantras such as ‘rule with an iron hand’, the latest paintings of American artist Mel Bochner (b. 1940) use a thesaurus to generate word chains that are both mordantly funny and bursting with colour.
Bochner shares with other artists who emerged in the 1960s, including Sol LeWitt, Eva Hesse and Robert Smithson, an interest in using rationalising systems – numbers, measurements, definitions – to explore the irrational and provisional nature of being.
Tracing nearly 50 years of work, this exhibition commences with Blah, Blah, Blah (2011) a huge painting that encapsulates Bochner’s ongoing fascination with language and with colour. Across the floor, blue squares are spray-painted onto newspapers in a fusion of geometric abstraction with current affairs. Giant crumpled photographs in lurid colours, described by the New Yorker as ‘like road maps found stuffed in the glove compartment’, hang around the walls.
In a reprise of Marcel Duchamp’s painting Nude Descending a Staircase, a scattering of 48 inch lines occupies the Gallery staircase. At the top No Thought Exists Without A Sustaining Support (1970), is chalked onto a blackboard that appears to drip down the wall. Exuberant planes of colour leap across the walls of Gallery 9 with Two Planar Arcs (1977) and a sculpture made in vividly chromatic chunks of raw glass.
Gallery 8 is devoted to the vast Event Horizon (1998) and ‘Thesaurus’ paintings, including Amazing! (2011) featuring exclamations from ‘awesome!’ and ‘groovy!’ to ‘gnarly!’ and ‘omg!’, whose letters and words advance or recede according to the shade. Bochner takes us on a cerebral, optical and physical journey.
Organised in collaboration with Haus der Kunst, Munich and Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves, Porto.