Critics’ Picks

View of “Black Light,” 2018.


“Black Light”

Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona
Montalegre, 5
May 16–October 21

The title “Black Light,” with its hippie signifier, might compel skeptical viewers to simply shrug off this exhibition. To do so would be to do oneself a great disservice. Subtitled “Secret traditions in art since the 1950s,” the show admittedly hosts a fair share of stoned, pale crystal-gazers hijacking Eastern philosophies during mystical quests for transcendence. But with more than fifty artists included, there’s still enough variety to constitute an intriguing and multiple-perspectived survey.

Highlights abound at the show’s outset, including a section devoted to Jordan Belson, who made films you could drop acid to, such as Mandala, 1953, or Bardo, 2000, which features ambient music by Maggi Payne. Any opportunity to lose yourself in the paintings of Agnes Martin is one worth celebrating. But, unfortunately, it’s not black lights but soft yellow ones that curator Enrique Juncosa has chosen for the exhibition space, washing out the whites of the pertinent pallors in Martin’s two canvases from 1997 included here (Untitled, number 7 and Untitled, number 5). There are five small canvases by the late Texan loner Forrest Bess, videos and audio recordings blaring the psychedelic jazz of Sun Ra, and a collection of the complete edition of the pocket-size Hanuman Books that, to be honest, were they not kept behind glass, I probably would have stolen. Rewatching Kenneth Anger’s Invocation of My Demon Brother, 1969, which explicitly links faggotry to Satanism and all sorts of fleurs du mal, provided welcome relief from the feel-good PCness that has lately come to saturate this century, wherein boring conformity to dominant hetero norms of the nuclear family, the most oppressive of institutions—not to mention complacency about the military-industrial complex—has rather brainlessly come to be aligned with the notion of progress and “liberation.” While it is certainly (re)commendable to view “Black Light” in an altered state, it is by no means required.