The art at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art continues to surprise, enlighten and delight. On the way to see the Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian house, a part of this museum’s campus, a sculpture caught my eye. It was in a corner of a corridor, away from the galleries dedicated to paintings. It looked like it could be an ice sculpture, but it was made from glass.
Dress Impression with Wrinkled Cowl by Karen LaMonte is a headless, armless sculpture, like a statue of an Ancient Greek goddess in a modern dress. If there was a breeze inside the glass display case, the ruffled sleeves and skirt might flutter. The upper body translucent, but the layered skirt is transparent so the shape of the legs are revealed. The body appears ready to walk, maybe to a wedding or to a party. The ancient Greek sculpture, Winged Victory of Samothrace is similar to Dress Impression; no head or arms, a sense that the body is moving, the drapery ready to be picked up by a passing gust of wind. Like Dress Impression, the marble sculpture’s upper body is covered by drapery, its legs uncovered, and appears ready to use its wings to fly. That is where Victory‘s similarity to Dress Impression ends.
The Greek sculpture once had arms and a head and was made to celebrate a military victory. Dress Impression and the series of sculptures it is part of tells a story of women and the dresses they wore. “People underestimate the power of clothes to tell stories,” says Andrew Bolton, curator of “China through the Looking Glass,” an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Special clothing is made or purchased for life events like parties, weddings or funerals. Since memories and emotions become associated with that clothing it is often preserved. Karen LaMonte’s work associates her glass dress sculptures with those memories and emotions
What makes this work unexpected is that the artist is able to get so much out of her medium. Glass is a super cooled liquid, a little like ice, but more permanent. The glass in this Dress transparent and translucent at the same time. The statue is solid, but it gives the feeling of the lightness and coolness of a summer dress. The impression is of the body under the dress ready to move. Some of the works in this series suggest that there is a body under the dress, like Reclining Dress Impression with Drapery (below). Others are dresses without bodies like Evening Rose Dress Remnant and Lace Dress Remnant, below right. The artist finds inspiration for the Dress series from sources as varied as Ancient Greek sculpture and Japanese Kimonos.
Karen LaMonte graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design. After graduation she received a fellowship to study at the Creative Glass Center of America in Millville, New Jersey. In 1998 she was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to pursue the use of large scale cast glass in the Czech Republic. On this fellowship, she learned to make the large cast glass sculpture, and during the process developed new techniques. First she makes a mold, wrapping the body of an actual woman model with gauze bandages soaked in liquid plaster. A life size mold is made of the body, arms included. The sculpture is based on this mold. She constructs the dresses, trying them first on herself and on a model, then makes the dress in stiffened fabric. Her first work, Vestige was a large scale cast glass sculpture of a dress. The sculptures in the Dress series are life size, and cast in one piece.
She has continued the theme of using clothing as a metaphor for identity and exploring the human in absentia. La Monte’s work can be seen in museums in the United States, the Czech Republic, France and Australia.
Karen La Monte b. 1967. Dress Impression With Wrinkled Cowl 2007. Glass
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Filed under: Sculpture