Let There Be (More) Light, the newest off-site exhibition produced by the Tenderloin’s Jessica Silverman Gallery, is cleverly subtitled “An illumination by Jens Hoffmann.” Former curator of the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, Hoffmann organized the show of 22 pieces by 21 artists around a simple premise: all the work -- save for one instance of fluorescent tubing -- is made of neon.
But besides the double-wide storefront at 508 Ellis Street, less than a block from the main gallery space, what exactly is being illuminated here?
The 40-page full-color exhibition booklet includes a curatorial essay from Hoffmann that attempts to answer that question: “There are many connections between light and art. The most direct one is that they both enable enlightenment -- one literally, by bringing light into a dark space, and the other intellectually and aesthetically.” By this line of reasoning, art that uses light as its medium presumably kills two birds with one stone, providing literal and figurative illumination.
Yet without context (the curatorial essay mentions exhibition artists Joseph Kosuth and Keith Sonnier, but fails to specifically address works by any other artists in the show), the bright lights and glowing signs of Let There Be (More) Light, however brilliant and self-reflexive, are utterly opaque.
Sure, artworks exist free of exhibition essays, wall texts, or artist statements all the time. But the show promised enlightenment, and we can’t get there all by ourselves, even if the warm hum of neon provides a meditative soundtrack to the viewing experience.