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Embodied Beauty

Sep 24, 2019

By Karen LaMonte

Karen LaMonte began her artistic career in 1990, following her graduation from the Rhode Island School of Design. Winning a Fullbright Scholarship in 1999 to work in Czech glass workshops, she created her first life-size work, Vestige, 2000: a glass dress that suggests an absent wearer by revealing the form of a body.

Karen LaMonte (b. 1967) Nocturne 2 (detail), edition of 3, 2017, cast glass, lighter color, 63 x 20 x 18 ½ inches. Courtesy Gerald Peters Gallery, ©Karen LaMonte 2019.

Establishing her permanent studio in Prague, LaMonte developed her first major body of work, Absence Adorned, in the early 2000s. These cast glass sculptures examine the interplay between public and private personas as they display translucent garments, “social skins,” draped on female figures. Effectively, these sculptures are a re-invention of the traditional portrayal of the nude, as they explore how fashion and culture shape perceptions of beauty.

Karen LaMonte (b.1967) Nocturne 2, edition of 32017, cast glass, lighter color, 63 x 20 x 18 1/2 inches. Courtesy Gerald Peters Gallery, ©Karen LaMonte 2019.

Pursuing her interest in how clothing reflects social behavior, LaMonte spent six months studying the kimono in Kyoto, Japan, in 2007. She learned every step of the design and sewing process—as well as the larger symbolic cultural significances inherent to the kimono. Returning to Prague with hundreds of kimonos she had acquired, LaMonte made sculptures modeled on mannequins built using biometric data of Japanese women. Employing the same formal treatment of the body as in LaMonte’s earlier works, these kimono sculptures portray a different iconography of beauty, based on the way kimonos mask the female form and communicate the wearer’s identity within the context of her community.

Karen LaMonte (b. 1967) Nocturne 1, edition of 32015, rusted iron, 60 1/4 x 26 1/3 x 18 3/4 inches. Courtesy Gerald Peters Gallery, ©Karen LaMonte 2019.
Karen LaMonte (b. 1967) Nocturne 1 (detail), edition of 32015, rusted iron, 60 1/4 x 26 1/3 x 18 3/4 inches. Courtesy Gerald Peters Gallery, ©Karen LaMonte 2019.
Karen LaMonte (b. 1967) Nocturne 1 (detail), edition of 32015, rusted iron, 60 1/4 x 26 1/3 x 18 3/4 inches. Courtesy Gerald Peters Gallery, ©Karen LaMonte 2019.

In the early 2010s, LaMonte began work on her Nocturnes—sculptures that take night as their subject. To capture the atmospheric essence of night, as John Field and Frederic Chopin had done in their Nocturne compositions, LaMonte designed and sewed evening dresses to make forms that “wrap the female body in night.” Selecting materials that communicate twilight and deep night—white bronze, shades of blue glass and rusted iron—LaMonte created figures that evoke the social dynamics we associate with night time. Some of these figures are modeled in reclining positions; LaMonte’s subtle way of subverting the tradition of the odalisque as she removed the solid nude, leaving behind a hollow dress.

Karen LaMonte (b. 1967) Nocturne 3, edition of 32015, white bronze, 59 3/4 x 25 1/2 x 25 1/2 inches. Courtesy Gerald Peters Gallery, ©Karen LaMonte 2019.
Karen LaMonte (b. 1967) Nocturne 3 (detail), edition of 32015, white bronze, 59 3/4 x 25 1/2 x 25 1/2 inches. Courtesy Gerald Peters Gallery, ©Karen LaMonte 2019.

LaMonte’s Etudes are a component of the Nocturnes: 1/3 life-sized scale works that, in part, are studies and named in keeping with musical nomenclature. The Etudes reference Theatre de la Mode, a project undertaken by artists, set designers, dancers and fashion designers following World War II in Paris, placing vignettes of 1/3 life-sized mannequins wearing couture in miniature theater sets in public places. The Theatre de La Mode tableaux encouraged the French public to move beyond the horrors of the war years, re-establish the fashion houses—and rebuild social morale, cultural institutions, and the economy.

Karen LaMonte (b. 1967) Reclining Nocturne 2, edition of 32016, cast glass, lighter color, 30 x 53 x 26 2/3 inches. Courtesy Gerald Peters Gallery, ©Karen LaMonte 2019.
Karen LaMonte (b. 1967) Reclining Nocturne 2 (detail), edition of 32016, cast glass, lighter color, 30 x 53 x 26 2/3 inches. Courtesy Gerald Peters Gallery, ©Karen LaMonte 2019.

Much of LaMonte’s focus now centers on weather and climate change; elements that, like the themes she has explored before, shape our identities, lifestyles—our very existence. Her 2017 marble Cumulus, which she modeled in collaboration with climatologists to reflect an actual cumulus cloud, is the first complete work in LaMonte’s developing series of weather-related sculpture.

Karen LaMonte (b.1967) Suspended Nocturne 2 (detail), edition of 3, 2015, white bronze, 67 1/2 x 35 2/3 x 13 2/5 inches. Courtesy Gerald Peters Gallery, ©Karen LaMonte 2019.
Karen LaMonte (b.1967) Suspended Nocturne 2, edition of 3, 2015, white bronze, 67 1/2 x 35 2/3 x 13 2/5 inches. Courtesy Gerald Peters Gallery, ©Karen LaMonte 2019.

Karen LaMonte’s exhibition Embodied Beauty, showing her figurative work, will be on view at Gerald Peters Gallery, New York, from October 28—December 20, 2019. ©Karen LaMonte 2019.

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