A Wabi-Sabi experience comes to Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in La Jolla


Are you wise to the ways of Wabi-Sabi? It’s a Japanese concept of finding beauty in imperfection and appreciating all phases of the natural cycle — from growth to decay — in nature and art.

A pair of new exhibits at the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library may well expand your aesthetic awareness, and broaden your thought processes, too.

Israeli-born, L.A.-based sculptor Galia Linn references wabi-sabi in her site-specific installation “Inside,” which is on display not just inside the main gallery but outside on the patio as well.

“My sculptures ... are relics, objects that you might find in an excavation,” she writes. “Their purpose is at times clear and at times mysterious so you may find yourself creating your own narrative around their existence.”

Further inside, in the Rotunda Gallery, is “Thinking About Thought,” a selection of drawings and artist’s books by New York-based artist/writer Roberta Allen. The Athenaeum holds the complete collection of Allen’s artist’s books, most created in the 1970s.

“People don’t realize how difficult it is to get a complete set,” said executive director Erika Torri, who started collecting artist’s books in the late 1970s, and brought her passion to the Athenaeum. “Sometimes the hunt takes 10 years, or more. And we do a publication for each conceptual artist whose collection we own. Ed Ruscha was the first, in 2010, and Roberta will be No. 6.”

Roberta Allen, Torri explained, was a special case. “In the mid-’90s, some years after I came to the Athenaeum, a friend gave me his collection of 200 conceptual artists’ books. I saw Roberta’s name among them, but I couldn’t track her down. I found someone on the Internet with the same name, but she was a short-story writer, and there was no easy way to get in touch.”

Fast forward to 2013, when local sculptor Matt Hebert proposed creating an exhibit for the main gallery that would feature a large wooden carpet incorporating phrases from some of the Athenaeum’s more than 2,000 artists’ books.

“He was only interested in books published in 1975, his birth year, and one of the excerpts he picked was Roberta’s,” Torri continued. “I said: There she is again! I have to follow up! By then, she had just had an exhibition in New York, and she had more presence on the net, and an e-mail address. And it turns out we are the only ones who have the complete set of her artist’s books, all seven of them. We’ve had them almost 20 years, and didn’t even know it!”

Encouraged by Torri’s interest, Allen — who had made a career as an author — rekindled her desire to draw, create artist’s books, and exhibit her work. Some of her first ink drawings in decades will be on display in “Thinking About Thought,” along with the wooden excerpt that started it all, from Matt Hebert’s 2013 piece, “Cover to Cover.”

And there’s more: Stop in the North Reading Room to see “The Iannellis In California: Selected Works 1910-15,” part of a multi-site exhibition honoring architect Irving Gill. Chicago-based designers Alfonso and Margaret Iannelli (he created the band shell for the Spreckels Organ Pavilion) collaborated with several SoCal architects of the early 20th century, including Gill. (See related story about Gill, page B1.)

IF YOU GO: “Galia Linn: Inside” and “Roberta Allen: Thinking About Thought,” will be on exhibit Sept. 24-Nov. 5 at Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, 1008 Wall St. An exhibit walk-through with the artists is set for 11 a.m. Sept. 24. The library is open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. Closed Sunday and Monday. (858) 454-5872.