San Francisco Chronicle
June 10, 2006
Visitors who know the lore of Marcel Duchamp’s “readymades” will think of it the moment they encounter Katina Huston’s pleasing show of drawings at Dolby Chadwick.
Huston generates forms by tracing and inking shadows cast by bicycle parts on Mylar sheets. Huston apparently invokes Duchamp as a foil for the visual richness of her work.
The most famous bicycle wheel shadow in the history of art falls into Duchamp’s 1918 painting “Tu’m'”. The picture happens to be hanging in Los Angeles in the UCLA Hammer Museum’s involving summer show “The Societe Anonyme: Modernism for America” (through August 20). The L.A. exhibition surveys the legendary collection that painter and patron Katherine Dreier assembled with Duchamp’s help and eventually left to Yale University.
Duchamp’s painted shadow evokes the notorious first ‘readymade,” a bicycle’s front fork and wheel fastened upright to the seat of a kitchen stool. The ‘original’ disappeared in the flotsam of Duchamp’s life, so he later authorized a small edition of replicas. The shadow in “Tu’um'” helped keep the quizzical object’s memory alive, though the mere rumor of its making might have done as much.
Duchamp set himself against what he called the “retinal” emphasis of early 20th Century art. Picasso and Braque then had only recently shuffled the deck of pictorial space with Cubism. Monet, Renoir, and Degas were still at work in France, though all in failing health. Meanwhile, Matisse in midcareer struggled to give substance to “decoration.”
The eye ruled and with the “readymades,” Duchamp took a poke at it on behalf of ironic intellect and the then still unmapped context that modern art requires to shore up its meaning.
In “Mechanical Repeat I” Huston has nearly buried her allusion to Duchamp under half-legible, dissonant information. She has done it by overlapping shadows cast from several angles and by using ink on an impermeable surface. The ink puddles and runs, blurs contours and probably gets blotted up here and there. A riot of shattered description results, so involving to the eye that the mind willingly lets go of the handlebars.
In the 1980’s Jasper John’s based a series of ink-on -Mylar drawings on early paintings by Duchamp . Huston may actually have found permission in John’s example to dive back into aesthetic detail despite the momentum and prestige that now belongs to conceptual art.
The title of Huston’s show, “Cyclone” refers to several pieces in which blotchy bike wheel shadows stack up into cyclone spirals. But I prefer the more congested, seemingly more disordered images. They put her process and its aesthetic payoff first.