Two new exhibitions have opened at Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in La Jolla — “Christine Oatman: Stories of Innocence and Experience: Altered Mid-20th Century Children’s Books in Pedagogic Tableaux” and “Artists’ Books from the Steven Leiber Catalogs.” The exhibits are on display Jan. 11-March 7, 2020.
Making art for more than 40 years, Christine Oatman has created everything from large-scale outdoor work to intricate assemblages. Her Athenaeum exhibit is an installation that loosely replicates a 1950s elementary school classroom and is comprised of 12 tableaux as stand-ins for learning in an actual classroom. Each tableau contains mid-century children’s books that have been altered with contemporary content.
These altered books determine the thematic essence of each tableau, reflecting Oartman’s responses to topical issues through the lens of pedagogy, based on decades of teaching, as well as her classroom memories growing up in 1950s San Diego. The touchstone is William Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and Experience,” written, etched, printed and hand-colored by the artist in the late 18th-century.
“The books I chose reflect the general happy-go-lucky optimism of American culture after World War II,” Oatman explained. “Because the children’s books of this time often were bland in terms of content, they provided an ideal foil for the juxtaposition of issue-oriented information.
“Just as the post-World War II period corresponded with my childhood (“Innocence”), so the 1960s and 1970s coincided with my coming of age (“Experience”) and offered a plethora of historic events to consider for possible inclusion. My altered children’s books offer a kind of mediation (“bridge”) between the many conflicting realities that characterize our increasingly polarized world; for example, abundance and scarcity, kindness and cruelty, generosity and self-interest. The exhibit suggests that we teach what we need to learn.”
Oatman received her BA from Scripps College and MFA from Cranbrook. In San Diego, she began making temporary outdoor works dealing with the California landscape. Her work has been shown at the Seibu Museum in Tokyo, Brooklyn Museum, Kansas City Art Museum, San Diego Museum of Art, and Cannon Art Gallery in Carlsbad.
On view in Athenaeum Music & Arts Library’s Rotunda Gallery will be the original pastel renderings by Anne Reas of “Stories of Innocence and Experience.” Reas illustrated the child figures that interact with the tableaux.
Working off Oatman’s memories of ’50s-era clothing, she said she aimed for a rendering style somewhere between Norman Rockwell and the “Dick and Jane” illustrations. Reas is an editorial and children’s book illustrator, whose primary medium is dry chalk pastel. She received a BFA in illustration at Art Center College of Design, and has done work for publications at Random House, TIME for Kids, Cricket Media and Condé Nast, among others.
In 2012, in response to the death of trailblazing art dealer Steven Leiber, Athenaeum executive director Erika Torri exhibited her collection of Leiber’s iconic artists’ books catalogs. If visual onomatopoeia were a thing, Leiber’s catalogs would have captured the term.
“Steven Leiber: Catalogs (Rinder, et al., Inventory Press, 2019)” is an exhibit of the landmark conceptual artists’ books he found, including those by John Baldessari, Lawrence Weiner, Hans-Peter Feldmann and Ed Ruscha. It was Leiber who tracked down a copy of the elusive “Dutch Details” for Torri, allowing her to complete the canon of Ruscha’s artist’s books in the library’s collection.
This exhibition is funded, in part, by grants from the City of San Diego Commission for Arts & Culture and the County of San Diego.
• IF YOU GO: Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, 1008 Wall St., La Jolla. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday; and closed Sunday and Monday. (858) 454-5872. ljathenaeum.org