Paul Nudd and Chris Kerr reveal little about what motivations or substances led them to curate a show meant to be viewed under black light. (According to the HPAC’s exhibition statement, the Chicago-based artists wanted to revive a “seemingly dead and trivial medium.”) More context would enhance “Blaque Lyte,” but it’s one of the most fun shows I’ve seen this year.
Most of its 46 works, hung along a second-floor hallway, are small-scale prints or drawings, though artists also contribute sculptures, paintings and—in the case of Mike Andrews—Denise, a shaggy floor-to-ceiling yarn tapestry that glows a lurid pink. Color is what comes to life under the black light illuminating the exhibition. The orange and green liquids in DeeDee Scacci’s nine Potions (2010) screenprints almost pop off the paper; the stripes in Eric Lebofsky’s painting Mother’s Milk (2011) appear to vibrate.
“Blaque Lyte” has its frustrations. Almost all of the pieces were made this year, specifically for the show, and a few are so simple and crude that they seem tossed off. Nick Black’s kinetic sculptures weren’t working during my visit. But plenty of artists capitalize on black light’s wacky connotations, creating complex psychedelic images. Lilli Carré’s row of Totem Pole prints (pictured, 2011) lacks the Day-Glo colors of most work on view, but viewers can lose themselves in each of her seven intricate illustrations, which construct animal-like heads out of botanical ornaments and grotesques.
Kerr and Nudd enliven their mostly local lineup with unfamiliar figures such as Joakim Ojanen. The Stockholm-based artist assembles 32 prints into Holding Hands (2011), a mural of fluorescent pink creatures squatting in a surreal landscape. Ojanen’s cartoonish creatures, which resemble tangles of intestines, recall the work of Peter Saul. Though they would latch onto our imaginations without the black light, it gives them a nightmarish quality white-box galleries can only dream of.