Library Quartet: From the Directors

Introduction as it appeared in the “Library Quartet Exhibition Catalogue” Published by The Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, September 2003.

We are delighted to present Library Quartet, a unique collaboration featuring a comprehensive exhibit of the work of Joyce Cutler-Shaw. Our common venture is the first of its kind between membership, university and public libraries, and we have worked together to showcase new and retrospective works that span over thirty years of Cutler-Shaw’s artistic production.The shows include: The Making of a Book, The Anatomy Lesson: Conversation with Johannes de Ketham at the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in La Jolla; Word Poems and Language Images, 1972-2003 at the University of California, San Diego Geisel Library; Drawings and Dimensional Drawings from The Anatomy Lesson at the Earl & Birdie Taylor Library, Pacific Beach Branch Library; and Public Projects: Drawing Translations for Public Sites at the Mission Valley Branch Library. The exhibition as well as the events and lectures that accompany it have been an exciting and challenging undertaking, and it is our hope that our various publics and audiences will come to know better and value the diverse and boldly expressive work of an artist who has shown locally and nationally since the early seventies.In one sense, the collaboration can be seen as a retrospective of Joyce Cutler-Shaw’s art production with the opportunity to highlight the many phases and stages of a distinguished and prolific career that the artist herself terms an “odyssey.” The format of multiple and concurrent shows allows us to explore a variety of perspectives on a single body of work—the chance to take a more focussed and appreciative look at a larger number of works than any of us would have been able to exhibit individually.Since Cutler-Shaw’s art represents a journey of time, and a trajectory of themes and approaches, the collaboration hopes to capture the scope and depth of an important art figure in the community of artists and scholars—and their public—in San Diego. The collaboration is a public step that we are taking to call attention to our common purpose, our common community, which is the intelligent and lively presentation of art to educate and enliven San Diego’s cultural environment. The impetus of multiple shows has also invigorated an already productive artist, and we are heartened to introduce new works from 2003 that Cutler-Shaw created in response to the momentum and dynamism as the exhibition took shape.

Four Exhibits and Venues
Joyce Cutler-Shaw’s work is included in the collection of the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, which concentrates on exemplary artists’ books in its permanent holdings. Cutler-Shaw also initiated and has coordinated the library’s “Art and Architecture” lecture series since 1989. Because the artist has been intricately involved with the activities at The Athenaeum over the years and has a large following in San Diego due to her presence both as a practicing artist and art activist, she was invited to present a new artist’s book for this exhibit, The Anatomy Lesson: Conversations with Johannes de Ketham. The book project was initiated in response to the Smithsonian Institution’s invitation to the 1995 Science and the Artist’s Book exhibition. It has evolved as a handpress limited edition, with a cover hologram, in collaboration with Robin Price, Publisher, of Connecticut, whose other beautiful publications are in The Athenaeum’s collection. The book includes ten drawings by Cutler-Shaw in a visual dialogue with the ten original woodcuts of de Ketham’s 1495 edition of his Fasciculas Medicinae. Scholars have contributed new interpretations of the woodcut iconography. There are also Cutler-Shaw’s ten poetic texts in response to the original medical text in Latin, which is presented with translated selections. The other half of the exhibition is from The Anatomy Lesson, including drawings for the book, sketchbooks, memory pictures, and new and retrospective artist’s books.At the University of California, San Diego’s Geisel Library the works on display concentrate on the relationship between word and image, a recurring and important juxtaposition that weaves throughout Cutler-Shaw’s art. The Mandeville Special Collections Library show, which includes two prominent examples from Cutler-Shaw’s production—The Alphabet of Bones and the multiple works of The Messenger Cycle— explores the use of the artist’s drawing as a “language.” With that and the fact that the artist’s archives are in the permanent collection of Mandeville Special Collections Library, the university extends a tradition of showing works that deal with art and language in new ways of presenting both. The plaza of Geisel Library also served as site for the installation of the artist’s melting word sculpture of ice, spelling We the People, created especially for this venue on the opening day of the exhibition.The San Diego Public Library is proud to present two of the four exhibitions comprising Joyce Cutler-Shaw’s ambitious Library Quartet. Her interest in drawing ties directly into the Public Library’s Visual Arts Program, which makes the exhibition that much more meaningful to the library’s mission and public. Always inventive, Cutler-Shaw pushes the boundaries of drawing by incorporating mixed media—blending representation with metaphor and abstraction—to conceive and create unusual formats and presentation modes. Such is the case of her “dimensional drawings,” part of The Anatomy Lesson, on view at the Taylor Library in Pacific Beach.At the Mission Valley Library Branch, the landscape of the San Diego River environment moves indoors and becomes a visual language of the surroundings themselves. The three permanent installations, The Sycamore Leaf Canopy, The Railing of Wild River Grasses, and The Sycamore Leaf Cascade, are a magnificent example of the artist’s collaboration not only with design teams and architects, but also a dialogue with all library visitors who enjoy the steel, acrylic, and etched-glass leaf and grass forms. Her impact on the design of the library was impressive for the artistic, functional, and educational ways in which she expressed and interwove the themes of the river and nature. Thousands of library visitors see Cutler-Shaw’s art every day and find their experience enhanced by her contribution. Also on exhibit at the Mission Valley Branch Library are pieces that document an array of her commissioned permanent works, from the Activity Center at San Diego’s Balboa Park to The Open Cage of Wild Birds and Grasses, an installation for a nearby residential community, and a new temporary site-specific architectural installation for the library meeting room, her 3 x 65 feet Elegy for the Natural World.

A Consistent Vision
Cutler-Shaw has an incessant thirst and reverence for knowledge and a lifelong passion for research and books that have taken her to libraries, museums, and collections throughout the world. She continually finds new ways of breathing new life into the history, science, literature and art of the past, while making it very much of the present and her own. Her vision is expansive, committed, and passionate while remaining grounded in the finest attention to detail and simplicity. Hers is an art that lives most comfortably in the realms of both the human and the humane. The fact that Joyce Cutler-Shaw enjoys an international reputation calls attention to the wealth of talent in our community, as an exhibit such as Library Quartet spotlights the breadth and quality of San Diego’s cultural institutions, expanding the notion of where and how art is shown and viewed in the region.We would like to acknowledge the many contributors who worked on Library Quartet, no doubt too numerous to list in this publication. We are indebted especially to the writers who crafted insightful essays for this catalogue. Our thanks go to Konrad Oberhuber, Victoria Marino, Rachel Rosenthal, Alain J.-J. Cohen, and Robin Price for their thoughts and words exploring Joyce’s artistic strategies and trajectories. The essays, reflections, and conversations add an important and new dimension to the existing scholarship on the artist. Stephen Sears has designed an elegant book and cover, and we appreciate his strong vision and commitment to the project. We thank also Julie Dunn for her diligence as an editor and project coordinator. Phel Steinmetz’s striking photography appears throughout the publication, and we are grateful for his participation and contributions. From The Athenaeum special thanks go to Sibyl Rubottom and Susan Dilts for their help with the promotion and print material, and Stephanie Scanga and Andy Hawkins for assistance with the installation. At UCSD, our gratitude goes to Shena Hong of the Mandeville Special Collections Library for her efforts in creating such an elegant installation. Above all, we thank Joyce Cutler-Shaw for sharing with us so generously her enthusiasm, good humor, tremendous talent, and body of work that has allowed our libraries to collaborate in such a new and distinctive endeavor.

Erika Torri, Executive Director, Athenaeum Music & Arts Library.

Lynda Corey Claassen, Director, Mandeville Special Collections LibraryUniversity of California, San Diego.

Mark-Elliott Lugo, Curator, San Diego Public Library, Earl & Birdie Library, Pacific Beach Branch.