Artist’s whimsical ‘Library’ takes new look at Athenaeum in La Jolla

By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt

Artist Mathieu Gregoire is known for his large-scale public projects, as well as more intimate temporary installations using found and fabricated objects. His skill at the latter is on display this month in his first solo show at the Athenaeum.

Gregoire has incorporated images of books, plants, fabrics and fragments of architectural features from the music and arts library into his show, titled “Library.” He even sanded down a gallery wall to reveal all the layers of paint used in past exhibitions. It’s his way of looking at the different layers that make up the Athenaeum.

“What do you do in a library?” he asked himself, swiftly answering the question: “You look up things. You look up the relations between things. You connect ideas. That’s the key to my installation.”

“Library” is all about making connections, finding new ways of looking at things. This is not an exhibit to rush through. Every section expands in interest as you give it more careful attention.

Consider the large black-and-white wall pieces: all the black shapes are negative spaces. The black symbols that look like some form of Hebraic alphabet: They’re what he calls “nesting forms,” puzzle-like pieces that fit inside one another. And the different-sized blocks arranged in a corner of the gallery: they’re the Athenaeum’s sculpture stands, some sanded-down, some in miniature, re-purposed as sculptures themselves.

“This is just me playing with blocks,” said the artist. “I like painting with a sander, too.”

Project Manager of UCSD’s Stuart Collection, a campus-wide smorgasbord of site-specific public art pieces, Gregoire is also a lecturer in UCSD’s visual arts department and an art consultant who advises institutions like Stanford and UC San Francisco on how to assemble collections that will work in their own special contexts.

Shining through all these lofty credentials are flashes of humor, a clear delight in turning aesthetics on its ear, as he did with palm twigs he bent, broke, and glued together upside down to make a kind of tree for “Library.”

“A lot of my work is about nature and the opposite of nature — nature and artifice,” he said.

The exhibit continues in the Reading Room’s glass cabinets, where Gregoire mixes books from the library’s collection with small pieces of his own that relate to the books, in form or in subject. The closer you look, the more relations you’ll see.

When you’re ready for a change from the ho-ho-ho holiday madness, take a quiet break at Mathieu Gregoire’s “Library.” It will be a real treat for your eyes and your mind.

If you go:

■ What: Mathieu Gregoire’s ‘Library’

■ When: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, to Dec. 29. Closed Sunday, Monday

■ Where: Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, 1008 Wall St., La Jolla

■ Admission: Free

■ Contact: (858) 454-5872

■ Website: ljathenaeum.org

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