The Gather: Corning Museum of Glass
Q&A with Karen LaMonte, 2018 Specialty Glass Resident
Evening Dress with Shawl
Known for her large-scale glass castings, Karen LaMonte has been selected for the 2018 Specialty Glass Residency. This joint program between the Museum and Corning Incorporated invites artists to work with Corning’s patented specialty materials that are not commercially available to artists. LaMonte is the fifth artist to take part in the residency, following Albert Paley, Tom Patti, Toots Zynsky, and Anna Mlasowsky.
LaMonte “probes the disparity between our natural skin and our social skin, clothing that we use to obscure and conceal, to protect the individual and project a persona.” She produces her life-size glass dresses in the Czech Republic using the lost-wax casting method to create a detailed mold of a carefully chosen dress, which she then uses to cast glass. LaMonte also works in clay, bronze, iron, and marble.
We took the opportunity to ask Karen a few questions about her personal inspirations and her hopes for the upcoming residency.
Q: How would you describe your work?
A: My work is figurative. For the past 10 years, I’ve been working in materials that have a classical background: glass, ceramics, bronze, iron, and most recently, marble. I work to balance conceptual inspiration with the physicality of the object—how it’s made and what it’s made of. I use materials to describe an idea.
Q: You use clothing as a metaphor for identity and to explore the human form in absentia. What got you interested in this theme?
A: Growing up, I went to a lot of museums with my family, and I loved all the figurative pieces because I could relate immediately to the stories they told. I knew at 13 that I was going to make art and that I wanted it to be accessible to every single viewer. New York City is such an international place to grow up, and I did a lot of people watching. You read aspects of character by the way a person dresses. I started thinking of the human body and its relationship to clothing as a dialogue. Take the Museum’s Nocturne 5, for example. I imagined if night was a material or atmosphere, and I could wrap it around a figure, it would be warm.
I try to give this very light touch of materiality to these large abstract ideas.
Q: How does glass lend itself to exploring those ideas?
A: Glass is a perfect way to tiptoe through complex thoughts. It connects fragile thinking—you can’t work with these thoughts too heavy-handedly because you’ll just destroy them.
I’m moving deeper and deeper into craftsmanship. I’ve been obsessed with these complex castings for a while, but now I want to get into the body ofthe glass and connect the qualities of the glass with the concept of the work. With the Nocturnes, it was color, specially. I worked with a glass company in Germany to get a glass that had the right quality and castability, but also the right color, tonality, and density. As the pieces get thicker, you see the material starting to amass, and you can feel like it’s the sky getting deeper or darker in the casting. Then it’ll thin out to a lighter part someplace else, and that’s earlier in the evening or a lighter sky. Glass is an amazing material in which to express these ideas.
Q: You work in a number of different materials. What excites you about exploring their properties, and how they lend themselvesto your artwork?
A: As an exercise, I sometimes make the same object in four different materials. I actually start seeing my ideas from different angles. It’s very self-educational.
Maybe five years ago, I read a quote that said, “Making gives physical location to ideas.” Thinking is so abstract and ambient, and you can do it so quickly that you can think yourself into and out of an idea in a split second. But when you physically make an object that represents that idea, you have to slow way down, and it forces you to think in detail about the idea and all its tertiary aspects.
For me, making objects involves learning about the traditions and the people who have worked before you. It influences your own thinking as you make objects.
Q: What is it about glass that captivates you?
A: It seems like the more you learn, the less you know. If you’d said to me when I was making the first dress, Evening Dress with Shawl, that I’d someday want to work with opal glasses, I would have said, “You don’t know me at all!” It was about the purity and pristine, non-decorative way of using the glass. But recently, I made a cloud of marble—for that, the equivalent I wanted to draw was to the water weight of clouds. Now, as I’m thinking of creating a cloud in glass, I’m focused on how magical it is that water gathers around a tiny particle of pollution to form, similarly to how opal glass is crystalized because of a pollutant.
It’s a perfect match for what happens in a cloud.
Q: What does it mean to you to have been chosen for the Specialty Glass Residency?
A: Right now, it means I’m extremely nervous, slightly intimidated, and super excited all at the same time. I will be able to ask questions that are always on my mind and get real answers. It’ll be nice to be able to work with people and learn from them on such a particular and focused level. It’s going to be like an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord, and I’ll consume so much information while I’m there. In the interim, I’ll just be digesting that information and letting it ow into the creative process. My learning will be expansive and will influence projects for the rest of my life, I would imagine.
Q: During this residency, you’ll get to work with different types of glass not commercially available to artists. What excites you most about that opportunity?
A: I know! In a way, it’s like being given tools and a vocabulary that isn’t available to a common individual, no matter how specialized or devoted they are to the material. I think with access to such sophisticated materials, hopefully I’ll be able to re ne my thinking and create objects that are also far more refined.
Q: Do you have any ideas or hopes for the residency yet?
A: I’m going into my residency with a very open mind. Even before I got the invitation for the residency, I was researching the confluenceof art and science around weather. I think an increasing number of artists are gaining a better understanding of science and phenomenology to extend their range. For my residency, that’s what I’m hoping—whatever I learn and start to understand will extend my perceptional range and my ability to perceive and understand as an artist.