Posted on October 16, 2020 at 3:30 PM by Brooke Rogers
If there was a contest for the most beautiful office on Iowa State’s campus, I believe I would take the prize, or at least place in the top 3! For the past 10 months, I have had the unique opportunity to immerse myself amongst some of the most elegant artworks that celebrate and examine Japanese history, culture, and global reach as my “office” is the Brunnier Art Museum. Visitors can often find me at the front desk in the Lori A. Jacobsen Gallery, which currently is a temporary home to seven of Karen LaMonte’s Floating World sculptures and maquettes as a part of our current exhibition Contemplate Japan.
The female figures that make up LaMonte’s Floating World (and my workspace) are exquisitely executed cast glass and ceramic sculptures that explore the female form and Japanese beauty ideals through the drapery, layers and intricacies of the kimono. It is clear on first viewing that LaMonte is a master of massive cast glass as a medium because she transforms what should be cold hard glass into something that is full of life, mystery, light and softness. By developing and employing a painstaking process to create a final sculpture where the human form is removed, each kimono figure embodies a physicality without an actual human form.
Whether the female figure is in the midst of walking, bending or moving the details of the kimono are always emphasized. It is almost impossible for me to pick out a favorite as each sculpture spellbinds me in its own unique way, but one figure in particular invites viewers to observe the intricacies of the kimono tradition. Bijin (Kimono 8) is the first LaMonte sculpture to greet visitors as they enter the museum and sets the tone for the rest of the exhibition as bjin roughly translates to a beautiful person.
One of my favorite details to point out to visitors is on the obi, a belt that completes the kimono ensemble and often signals the wearers’ age and social status. On the gracefully wrapped and tiered obi are lightly etched chrysanthemum flowers that mimic the heavy brocade of an actual fabric obi. Interestingly, the chrysanthemum is the imperial emblem of Japan and is symbolic motif that is said to confer a person with happiness, love and longevity. Once a visitor recognizes this exceptional flower they will see that it is repeated throughout the exhibition in woodblock prints, textiles and ceramics.As we approach the final month of displaying Contemplate Japan I am realizing that these sculptures have become a central presence in my daily life as I have spent over a thousand hours with them. Through our time together I have learned so much about my world view, thinking habits, and ability to observe details. In between writing emails, giving tours or just needing a boost of inspiration, I often find myself looking at these women and their floating worlds. I encourage you to come see these sculptures in person so you can witness their beauty for yourself.
INSET IMAGE: Bijin (Kimono 8) 2/3, 2013 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.