Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Christine Oatman at the Athenaeum Music and Arts Library, La Jolla

by Patricia Frischer

Lift Off! - Our race into space.

Christine Oatman's Stories of Innocence and Experience: Altered Mid-20th Century Children's Books in Pedagogic Tableaux at the Clayes Gallery  from Jan 11 to  March 7 at the Athenaeum Music and Arts Library is a show that can fool you at first glance into thinking it is nostalgic but then it overwhelms you.  At first you see a bunch of 1950's elementary school classroom displays. But what you discover is a dozen tableaux that speak of a multitude of today's concerns. 

There are many components to this creation by Christine Oatman. There are amazing altered books. There are life size cut outs of children who are rendered by Anne Reas  (a further display of her work in the Rotunda Gallery). There are additional books and memorabilia from this bygone era.There is also a sound tape in the background giving further hints of the subject matter. Each set piece is built up of all these elements making it complex and layered. For example, notice that each figure is about to have a mishap; a child is wrapped up in a fire hose, one is about to fall off a chair, another off a piles of books, one could slip on a banana peel, be bitten by a rat, be hit by a ball or is suffering from polio. Each of the many altered books needs full attention as they morph from bedtime story to nightmare. 

I only spent a couple of hours at the show and felt I had barely tapped the visual communication.  The lengthy introduction in the extremely well produced book that goes with the show is by Robert Pincus and delivers great insight.  A team of collaborators helped Oatman to construct these scene between 2009 and 2018. She is a local artist with an impressive track record. 

Anne Reas . A duck and cover little girl from the Distraction tableaux. There is also a boy scout waiting for the time to pass and the ghost of an African American boy, just barely allowed to be educated.  See the video below.

Animal Friends - Represents both animals in cages, children in playground and most currently the children taken from their families at the border crossings. 

Anne Reas 

This Thing of Darkness - References Shakespeare, William Blank and Dr. Seuss.

Anne Reas 

Heroes - The chronological loss of innocence

Anne Reas 

Subtraction - Each of the books has a lift up tab depicting an endangered animal. The chairs are in various stages of destruction and one of the balls is about to drop on this children's head.

Rachel's Easel - The subject is pollution.  The painting smock is a lead apron and the children is a cripple. 

Time is the School - 9/11 at the world trade center. This is the child, smiling but tied up in a fire hose.  

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