Kimono: Karen LaMonte and Prints of the Floating World juxtaposes contemporary artist Karen LaMonte’s life-sized cast-glass sculpture of a kimono with Japanese woodblock prints from the New Mexico Museum of Art’s collection and from a private collection. The exhibition runs June 24 through November 6, 2011, with a free public reception on “First Friday,” July 1, 2011, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
After focusing for a decade on dress styles characteristic of Western society, Karen LaMonte turned her attention to Japan and the clothing that most embodies that culture: the kimono. A Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission grant supported her seven month residency in Kyoto researching the kimono—its production, form, function, and social significance—and spent another 3 ½ years producing a series of kimono sculptures cast in glass, bronze, or ceramic. The sculpture on display at the New Mexico Museum of Art, Ojigi--Bowing (2010), is one of the cast-glass works.
LaMonte’s kimono sculptures reflect a cultural norm in which the human figure is depleted of all curves becoming an idealized cylindrical form. “How the kimono is worn parallels the relationship between Japanese individuals and their society,” LaMonte explained. “Putting on a kimono is literally about erasing the individual’s identity and joining the group.” Whereas for past castings LaMonte worked with live models, for the kimono series she built a mannequin based on biometric data of the Japanese population as compiled by NASA. She selected the measurements for the 50th percentile of 40-year-old Japanese woman in the year 2000 in 1g (gravitational force). “My mannequin is the exact average Japanese female – the exact everywoman or no-woman,” she states. The shorter sleeve length tells us the kimono belongs to a married woman, and her posture is a bow from the waist called ojigi. It is a quintessential gesture of respect and humble greeting in Japan.
Also in the exhibition are a dozen Japanese ukiyo-e prints. Ukiyo-e translates to “pictures of the floating world,” a reference to paintings and prints that depict the ephemeral or hedonistic aspects of life enjoyed in Japan’s pleasure districts, embodied most often in the figures of courtesans and actors of Kabuki theater. These images of the “floating world” are typically associated with the rise of a merchant class and cities during the Edo period (1618-1868). The earliest print in the exhibition is from the Kaigetsudō “school” and dates from circa 1710—one of only 41 such prints extant in the world today. Other well-known practitioners of ukiyo-e are also included, among them Suzuki Harunobu (1725-1770) and Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806). The prints were selected for their emphasis on the kimono, to explore the differing interpretations of this cultural object by different artists from different eras in different mediums.ABOUT KAREN LAMONTE
Originally from New York, where she was born in 1967, Karen LaMonte has spent more than a decade in the Czech Republic challenging herself and the limits of cast glass to produce life-size dresses—and now kimonos—emptied of inhabitants. Since her graduation in 1990 from the Rhode Island School of Design, where she studied sculpture, glass, and printmaking, LaMonte has explored figuration through the motif of clothing as a stand-in for the human.
Among the many prestigious awards LaMonte has received are: Corning Museum of Glass/Kohler Arts Center Joint Artist-in-Residence Program; Jutta Cuny-Franz Memorial Award; Virginia A. Groot Foundation Recognition Award; UrbanGlass Award for New Talent in Glass; Creative Glass Center of America Fellowship; Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Biennial Award; a 1999-2000 Fulbright fellowship, which allowed her to first work in the Czech Republic; and a Japan-United States Friendship Commission, National Endowment for the Arts Creative Artists Exchange Fellowship, which made possible a residency in Japan over the course of 7 months to research kimonos and produce a series based on the kimono.
Her work is included in many museum collections, including the Corning Museum of Glass, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery, the deYoung Memorial Museum, Palm Springs Art Museum, Musee des arts decoratifs, National Gallery of Australia, Chrysler Museum of Art, Toledo Museum of Art, and the Museum of American Glass.