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Karen LaMonte's Floating World

Posted on August 7, 2020 at 3:00 PM by Adrienne Gennett

Karen LaMonte has spent much of her artistic career exploring the human form in reference to the clothing or materials that are used to cover and attire a body while also communicating personal and cultural identities. LaMonte has most often used massive cast glass as her medium, employing a painstaking process to create a final product where the human form is removed from the sculpture, yet the impression of the body remains within the clothing or drapery. The lightly frosted or etched glass sculptures belie the solidness of the material and become ethereal, almost ghostlike. Each sculpture embodies a physicality without an actual human form, there is an illusion to the body and its movement seen within the clothing and held in perpetuity by the solid glass.

LaMonte’s sculptures previously focused on Western standards of clothing and body shape, but as she progressed in her art, she began to look to other cultures and ideals of beauty for inspiration. Japan intrigued her because of the complexity of the kimono, which was quite different from the European or Classical style of drapery she had been utilizing in her sculptures. Also she was fascinated by the Japanese conception of beauty concerning the female form or more specifically, the absence of traditional feminine traits that was so idealized in Western cultures. In 2007 LaMonte embarked upon a seven month fellowship in Kyoto through the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission fully immersing herself in the world of kimono making, decorating, and wearing. She came to learn the language of the kimono, how each element of the garment communicated information about the person who wore it and how the kimono signified placement of the individual within Japanese society. Through her time in Japan, LaMonte learned how to wear a kimono from a professional dresser and worked with a master kimono maker to design and construct a kimono. 

When LaMonte returned to her studio in Prague, she brought with her 250 kimono. She began to grapple with how to represent a very different form of femininity in her sculptures, one that was not based on an overt female shape, but rather held within the garment and gentle movements of the disembodied figure. She also felt a need to create not only in glass, but explore new materials. She would go on to create kimono figures in cast glass, ceramic, bronze, and rusted iron. Each material has its own distinctive properties that allowed for unique examinations of both the kimono and form when sculpted by LaMonte. The different materials were used to more explicitly direct the viewer to the cultural differences regarding beauty and aesthetics between the East and the West. LaMonte was especially inspired and influenced by the Japanese ideal of Wabi-Sabi, a philosophy that embraces the natural passage of time and impermanence of beauty; an understanding that the broken, repaired, or damaged can be beautiful because of those perceived flaws. As she states in her exhibition guide for Floating World, “It is, in short, a profound appreciation of the fragile and fleeting nature of beauty.”

After six years her series of sculptures, Floating World, was ready for exhibition. Each masterfully represents the beauty of the kimono as an important aspect of historical and contemporary Japanese culture, while also signifying an aesthetic taste that differs greatly from the Western ideals she had worked with before. By immersing herself fully into the culture and creation of the kimono, LaMonte has been able to translate into solid form, the ephemeral nature of a purely Japanese aesthetic and sense of beauty. 

A selection of full sculptures and maquettes are on exhibition in Contemplate Japan at the Brunnier Art Museum; it will be open through the fall 2020 semester.

INSET IMAGE: Kimono Maquette 3 5/5, 2014 by Karen LaMonte. Cast glass. On loan from the artist and Gerald Peters Gallery. Image © Karen LaMonte.

BELOW LEFT: Child's Kimono (Kimono 1), 3/3, 2012 by Karen LaMonte. Cast glass. On loan from the artist and Gerald Peters Gallery. Image © Karen LaMonte.

BELOW CENTER: Maiko (Kimono 5) 2010 by Karen LaMonte. Ceramic. On loan from the artist and Gerald Peters Gallery. Image © Karen LaMonte.

BELOW RIGHT AND HEADER IMAGE: Kabuki (Kimono 9) 2011 by Karen LaMonte. Ceramic. On loan from the artist and Gerald Peters Gallery. Image © Karen LaMonte.

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