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Kenneth Baker
San Francisco Chronicle
April 9, 2005    

Any exhibition that features work by notable Bay Area artists Hung Liu, Carlos Villa and Gail Wight probably warrants a visit. But the drawings of the little-celebrated Katina Huston upstage everything else in “Visual Alchemy Phase 2” at the Oakland Art Gallery.

In black coffin-like constructions fitted with small brass plates, Villa offers not very effective figures for interior life, personal memory and ancestry. Liu shows characteristically vivid paintings and graphic works that translate antique photographs of people in China into a modernist aesthetic idiom.

Gail Wight offers a series of works that probe for links between the assumptions of science and those of visual display. Her inkjet prints of dissected mechanical toys make light of the scientific axiom that taking something apart is the best way to understand it.

But Huston’s drawings outrun everything else here in visual impact and intelligence.

Huston draws in inks on Mylar, an impermeable material that causes liquid media applied to it to pool and settle out as they dry. In the three pieces on view, she has piled up shadows cast by bicycles to create pictorial structures that wink with the recognizable details but finally force the eye to surrender to their sheer graphic brilliance.

Any bicycle part that appears in contemporary art will call to mind Marcel Duchamp’s iconic “ready-made” of bicycle wheel pointlessly fastened atop a four-legged stool. Viewers who know Jasper Johns’ ink on mylar drawings of Duchamp paintings will think of them also.

But Huston moves in just the opposite direction from Duchamp’s drive away from “the retinal” in art and toward an exhilaration we might associate more with Futurism’s delight in machinery and speed, had not so many Futurists also gloried in the civilizational crack-up of World War I.

Huston’s work glories in the pleasures of seeing and the eye’s transits as a possible brake on the waywardness of the mind.

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