San Diego Art Prize winners' work on view at Athenaeum until June 9 in La Jolla

LET'S REVIEW:

On an unseasonably wintry May evening, many members of the local art community made their way to Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in La Jolla for the opening of the San Diego Art Prize exhibition. Now in its 12th year, the annual award honors established and emerging artists in our area with a cash prize and an exhibition. For eight of these years, the Athenaeum has hosted the events.

At the May 11 opening, the 2017 prizewinners — established artists Cy Kuckenbaker and Fu/Rich (art couple Victoria Fu and Matt Rich) and emerging artists Rizzhel Mae Javier and Alexander Kohnke — showed works they created during the past year.

The standout was a wall-size piece by Kohnke, a series of portraits of the artist mouthing the letters of the alphabet, overlaid with large dots, which turned out to be over-sized Braille.

Well, sort of Braille, but not anything a blind person could read, since the dots are not raised, and not anything sighted people could read, unless they know Braille. It's up to each viewer to work out what the piece is about, with the help of a nearby card catalog of the Braille alphabet.

Even without knowing any of this, or being able to lip-read the mouthed forms of the letters, I found the work appealing — the hyper-expressiveness of the portraits drew me in. A conversation with the artist added additional levels of meaning, and the fact that the arrangement of the portraits in groups of two, three, four or more was hardly casual.

The dots in each grouping form a word in Braille, and together they spell out the beginning of a novel: "On the day he lost his right foot, Walter Van Brunt had been haunted, however haphazardly, by ghosts of the past." (A quick online search revealed that it's the opening sentence of "World's End," by T.C. Boyle.)

During the evening, the 2018 prizewinners were announced by Patricia Frischer, head of San Diego Visual Arts Network, the organization that sponsors the Art Prize.

The established artists chosen were Anne Mudge, who does intricate wire sculptures, and Robert Matheny, who calls himself a multimedia trickster. And each chose an emerging artist to honor: for Mudge, it was furniture designer Erin Dace Behling; for Matheny, it was Max Robert Daily, a puppeteer, sculptor and performance artist.

The four will create art works for next year's exhibition at the Athenaeum.

On the whole, I wanted to like the current exhibition more than I did. Flipping through Javier's flip-card photos of important women in her life was kind of interesting, and Cy Kuckenbaker's aircraft carrier with its SoCal sundeck was kind of fun, though the 3-D component didn't really work for me. And the Fu/Rich photographs-on-painted-fabric aprons by were colorful, but underwhelming.

The exhibition will be on view through June 9. Why not stop by the Athenaeum and see what you think?

IF YOU GO: Athenaeum Music & Arts Library is at 1008 Wall St., La Jolla. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday; 10 a.m to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. Closed Monday and Sunday. Admission is free. (858) 454-5872. ljathenaeum.org

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