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A closeup of a kimono glass sculpture by Karen LaMonte


Imagine Museum opened its doors in 2018 for the first time to the public. In 2019, one of the first exhibitions we installed was “Floating World” by Karen LaMonte. Almost immediately after this opening, the pandemic hit, impacting attendance and the ability of many people to take in this phenomenal group of sculptures.

In the fall of 2022, we decided to reinstall the exhibit, only “reimagined”. Our purpose was to allow our visitors to experience Karen LaMonte’s extraordinary body of work, capturing a culture’s point of view about beauty, body image, along with exploration for meaning with the sculptural materials she uses.

Jane Buckman, Executive Director of Imagine Museum presents “Floating World” by Karen LaMonte

Research in Japan led Karen LaMonte to her vision

Karen LaMonte had come to her vision for “Floating World” by questioning her aesthetic and Western ideals relative to the female form and beauty that had previously played out in her work.  She began a seven-month research fellowship in Japan that allowed her to immerse herself into the lives of people in Kyoto, the kimono-making district in Japan. There, she learned all aspects of the kimono, from construction to the meaning of each attribute. Where Western culture aggrandizes the female form, the Japanese culture, through the kimono, eliminated it. The beauty of the clothing superseded the beauty of the wearer. This was the counterpoint she was looking for.

Karen LaMonte at work on her kimono sculpture in her studio

It took LaMonte over eight years to build the entire “Floating World” body of work. The Imagine Museum’s exhibit of “Floating World” in 2022 had 12 life-size sculptures from this series. The current exhibition of LaMonte’s work has 6 kimonos on view.

The significance of “Floating World”

“Floating World” is the English interpretation of the name of the 18th and 19th-century pleasure quarters in Edo, Japan (now Tokyo). These pleasure quarters were filled with geishas and kabuki actors who led a transient life of pleasure and emotion dear to the hearts of young men and essential to the economy and society of feudal Japan. The geishas and actors “floated” above the mundane of everyday existence. Through the beauty of art, music, and dance, along with the indulgence of bodily gratification, people would forget their daily worries, but with an underlying awareness of the impermanence of the moment.

Trish Duggan, Founder of Imagine Museum reflects on the “Floating World” exhibit by Karen LaMonte

This was the inspiration LaMonte was looking for that demonstrated the cultural differences concerning dress and the feminine form but also recognized the struggle for beauty and how transient it can be.  

Use of materials in Karen LaMonte’s sculptures

From her investigation of materials, Karen LaMonte placed a focus on the specific materials she used for her sculptures. For this series, LaMonte chose clay for its humble origins, bronze for its timeless tradition as an art-making material, iron for its transience, and glass as it embodies the contradiction of presence and absence. Try to align your thoughts about the materials as you witness these sculptures. It will provide a deeper appreciation for these works of art.

“Floating World” brings us into an environment that celebrates beauty but also, through Karen LaMonte’s sculptures, expressed through the materials she uses, how transitory beauty and our exterior representation can be as represented through the Japanese kimono and Karen LaMonte’s imagination.

Visit our Karen LaMonte’s “Floating World” exhibit page to learn more

Continue to imagine,

Jane Buckman, Executive Director at Imagine Museum

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