CULTURE- ART FEATURE- </span>Best-laid plans... Huff's industrial dissolution

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We are now officially in disaster season. Between anniversaries of the catastrophes of Hurricane Katrina and 9-11, the end of summer has laid bare just how un-invincible we actually are. Levees seem solid; steel girds skyscrapers; the government professes nuclear safety— technology, after all, is our industrial friend. But we know better.

How about a little art to go with that reality check? At Piedmont Virginia Community College, Robert Huff's exhibition, "Wall Constructions," on view in the V. Earl Dickinson Building's North Gallery, visually thrills as it explores via abstraction how our faith in structure fails against the chaos of outside forces.

Huff's six large and five small architectural wall sculptures are complexly layered and incorporate such diverse materials as machine parts, metal, salvaged wood, gold leaf, and ink on paint. Huff creates a vocabulary of symbol, line, and shape that echoes within each piece as well as across the entire body of work. Grids reflect order and repeat in graph-like overlays, stylized architectural paintings, and color-flecked wooden structural elements. Yet on a psychological level, these lattices evoke the jagged and twisted building fragment left standing amid the World Trade Center rubble.

Each of Huff's pieces shares a pentagonal structure resembling that Western icon of architectural perfection and reason, the Greek Parthenon (which even appears in one of the small works). The large "Station" series also features central crosses, sometimes constructed from machine parts, which furthers the idea of fractured faith— after all, religion is yet another structure that promises guardianship.

Another symbol Huff repeats is a red-and-white striped conical form reminiscent of a nuclear cooling tower. But just as he intentionally violates his upright world of perpendicular elements with jagged sharp angles, he often places these cones on a diagonal, as if in mid-upheaval, triggering an involuntary sense of panic in the viewer. 

His rich and textured palette ranges from smooth steely gray to ceremonial gold to glaring orange and flaming scarlet to deep cobalt blue and a tar-like matte black. Here and there, Huff introduces a swath of teal or a drizzle of deep red that keeps the eye moving across each piece, discovering previously unnoticed nuances and elemental relationships. 

Particularly interesting is Huff's use of radial elements across the middle of the larger works, subtly suggesting a ticking metronome– made most explicit in "Station #1– as if it's all just a matter of time before catastrophe strikes, and our delusions of structural security shatter again.

Robert Huff's exhibition, "Wall Constructions," is on view through October 4 in the North Gallery of the V. Earl Dickinson Building at Piedmont Virginia Community College. 961-5376.