Meet the Artist: Karen LaMonte

Corning Museum of Glass, February 28, 2008

TINA OLDKNOW: I am really pleased to say that Karen LaMonte is here with us tonight. I know a lot of you love her beautiful sculpture, which is the Evening Dress with Shawl, in the Sculpture Gallery, and you’re going to love her even more after you hear her speak, sorry Karen.

It’s really a pleasure to have her here tonight.  Even though she says she’s not so busy, she really is busy. She lives in Prague most of the year with her husband, who is also here tonight, Steven Polaner. I’m so glad that both of them are here. In fact, we actually had some calls tonight from people who could not make it, asking me when is she coming back to the museum, so Karen, you’re welcome any time!   

And for those of who want to share her lecture, maybe with your friends, we will have a videocast available on our web site.  And we do have several of the Meet the Artist lectures as well as interviews available on our web site. So you can download those to your Ipods or you can listen to them on your computer. And they are really great, I think that you will enjoy that.            

Karen has been an independent artist since 1998, and she told me that she is going to give some of her biographical information during her presentation, but I think that I’m going to tell you a few things that she might not talk about. 

Like, her amazing museum shows: Karen has been exhibiting for 10 years in museum shows throughout the United States and Europe. However, she has had two solo shows in museums of great distinction. Really fantastic shows, shows that when I saw images of them I was literally, my breath was taken away, they were so incredible, such intelligence and discipline. 

The first one was Vanitas, which took place at the Czech Museum of Fine Art in Prague. She’s was one of the few Americans to have had her work shown in Prague. Certainly, the Czech Republic, as most of you know, is one of the great centers and the leading center of European glassmaking, so that’s a really great honor. She had that show in 2004, and of course our exquisite Evening Dress in the gallery made its first public appearance in Prague. 

Her show in 2005, and I’m sure that she will discuss both shows, called Absence Adorned, which was really a spectacular, superb exhibition. This is a detail of a curtainincredible, from that exhibition, I’m stunned.  You know, it was in 2005 and I’m still talking about it!   

In addition, she has maintained a vigorous gallery exhibition schedule, both solo shows and group shows since 1985. 

She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1990, and she undertook post-graduate studies at the Academy of Art, Architecture, and Design in Prague in 1999 and also 2000. 

She has received many awards for her work, and I am going to mention them, specifically the prestigious European award named in honor of Jutta Cuny-Franz in 2007; a Japan-United States Friendship Commission awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts Creative Artists Exchange Fellowship Program in 2006; the Virginia A. Groot Foundation Recognition Award in 2005; the Urban Glass Award for New Talent in Glass in 2002; The Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Biennial Award in 2001; a Fulbright Grant in 1999-2000 to the Czech Republic; and the Manhattan Arts International Award of Excellence in 2000.  She has also been an artist in residence at the Creative Glass Center of America in Millville, NJ and at North Lands Creative Glass in Scotland. 

Karen’s work is represented in many private and also many public collections including the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra; the M. H. de Young Memorial Art Museum in San Francisco; the Corning Museum of Glass of course; the Chrysler Museum of Art; the Tucson Museum of Art; the Racine Art Museum; and the Museum of American Glass in Millville, NJ.   

And, finally, for those of you in the crowd who are Matthew Barney fans—and I count myself among you—Karen worked on his “Cremaster 5" video in 1997, creating the glass pieces that were used in the film.   

Please welcome Karen LaMonte. [Applause] 

KAREN LAMONTE: Thank you very much for coming out. I wanted to start by thanking everybody who has lured me here to Corning and gently guided me around: Tina, Amy, Louise, Peter Drobny and of course Doug and Katya [Heller]. Thank you all. 

I wanted to start by giving you a little %%bit%% of my personal history and an introduction to work that I did before I started on these large-scale dresses. I was born in New York City in 1967, and I decided that I wanted to be an artist when I was about 13 years old. I went to the Rhode Island School of Design and I graduated in 1990.  My professor of greatest influence, I feel, has been Bruce Chao. 

When I left college and I went back to New York, my early work really focused on metaphoric figures. I worked with puppets, marionettes, sort of tertiarily figurative work. These are a series called The Seven Deadly Sins. This is Sloth; I liked focusing on human attributes, this lazy person with these giant, heavy hands. This is a piece from the puppet series. My first goal in life was to become the best female glass blower in the world. I was obsessed with the Italian techniques and all of the Ballantini cane and how it was possible to use such a traditional format, but to make actually the web and the weft of cloth because that’s what all of the canework looked like to me. 

After a while, I realized I was actually interested in the body of the puppet and not really in the head or the rest of the puppet, and so I started making small blown clotheslines. I would do one clothesline per blow slot at UrbanGlass and these are just whimsical little drying lines. 

Then I realized that I wanted to make lifesize, human scale—my scale—work focusing on clothing. I realized very quickly—I tried a couple of smaller pieces in the United States, and I realized that scale was immediately going to be an issue. So, that’s what led to the move to the Czech Republic. So, in 1999, I applied for the Fulbright and moved to Prague. I studied for one year, and my grant was to study at the Applied Arts Academy and to work in these foundries. There were three, really, three major foundries that you can go into as an artist and cast glass. I went and met the foundry owners, and I showed them my past work and I said, And I want to cast a glass dress! And one of the foundry owners said, Great, come on up! So, that was sort of the beginning. 

At this point, I just wanted to share, I have kind of three or four areas of work: the large-scale dresses that are in three dimensions, some bas-relief pieces, and I also work in print, again monumental scale. These pieces I callSartoriotypes. Sartorial means of or related to tailored clothing, and type literally means impression. So, these pieces are dresses that I’ve inked-up and printed in a giant printing press. The mirrors are sort of the most recent explorations. Working with themes of self-image, beauty, perceived beauty, just on a smaller scale. 

So, moving to Prague was a huge transitional period for me. I left the United States, and I actually believe that living in Europe has had a deep influence on my work. The lifestyle, the pace of life, the architecture, the adornment of the architecture, has kind of crept into my subconscious and I believe has become a part of my vocabulary. 

Almost every building in Prague is decorated, if it’s not completely falling apart. Also, there was a sense of solitude in Prague that I did not have working in the United States. This is the main train station, which is just incredible to me, it’s a little different than Grand Central. I love Grand Central but this is different. 

This is my favorite building in Prague, this is my studio. Underneath the wooden platform is my workspace. So, I thought what I would do is to start with a piece that’s familiar to all of us, and talk about all the steps I went through in making it. This piece is sort of the bridge piece. It was in the exhibition, Vanitas, but it was really the first in the series that I made for the Absence Adorned show. What I was working with was the clothed figure, but then these drapery flourishes. 

First I had to make the “absence.” To do that, I started with a live model; this is a friend of mine from the Academy, Teresa, she modeled while I took a plaster mold off of her figure. I did all of this first; I was the first model for a plaster mold because I wanted to make sure I knew exactly what I was asking of my friends. [Laughter.] It’s not the most comfortable thing, it’s not totally impossible, but it’s not the most comfortable thing. 

You can see here that I’m looking into the interior cavity of that mold, because that’s what I’m interested in: the hollow space or the absence that will become the core of the piece. After making the plaster mold I make a rubber positive, and now we are going to jump back and forth between positive and negative and positive and negative, so pay attention. [Laughter] 

So, this is a positive, and around this rubber positive I will paint hot wax; the hot wax takes the impression of the body. The wax is painted on in two halves and then I open up the two halves, take out that rubber body, put the two halves back together, and tape them together. You have to understand that there isn’t actually a manual written on how to do this, so I pretty much have made it all up as I’ve gone along. So, if there’s anybody in the audience who has a better idea be sure to tell me afterwards. 

So, now I have my “absence.” I have a wax shell around it, and then I start working adorning it. My decorative vocabulary is clothing. In my studio, I have 400 dresses, from all fashion periods, all styles, every fabric, anything I can find I collect and bring back to my studio. So, I worked putting a dress around the piece; this was the first in the  series where I started exploring the possibility of using fabric to enhance the emotional state of the piece. Oh, Teresa, when I did her position, the two things that were very important to me were that her feet were not touching the ground—that she was actually floating in the air—and that her arms were thrown back, almost like this flight.  And so, when I added the drapery pieces, I sort of left them coming off like trails, like jet trails, or wings coming off of her hands. So, that’s the blue fabric in the background. 

The next step is—everything is very funky and non-technical. I use hairspray to stiffen the fabric, so, I think that I used about ten cans of extremely cheap hairspray to stiffen up the fabric, and then I penetrated it with wax. I painted on molten wax and then blew it with a hairdryer. Once the fabric was stiffened, I was able to work with plaster bandages, like what you would use for a broken arm, and I built a temporary shell around the fabric. And then started working, pouring and injecting and spatula-smearing wax onto the inside of the piece, inside of the fabric. So, what I had to do was to completely fill up the space between my core and the dress, and then in all the wrinkles of this thing. 

Then, I took away the dress. So, you can see, here’s the drapery piece and this is the effect that I am looking for. It’s this impression of the body, sort of in contact, or in contrast, with this exterior drapery. 

Here’s the entire piece ready to go to the foundry, and you can see I cut away the body where there is no dress. Therefore, the body is defined only by the clothing it wears. This has sort of metaphoric implications that I like to play with. Do we define our societies? Because I believe that society is represented by the clothing.  Or, is the society defining us? 

So, the next step—now, I started counting days for you because everyone always says, How long does it take to make a piece? So far, I’ve been working in my studio from anywhere from a month and a half to two months. Here we are, we make it up to the studio and these are the mold makers, this is the mold making room, and the first thing that we do—or they do—is build a reservoir or walls, retaining walls, around the wax piece. 

Then, there is a mixture of plaster and silica that is poured around that wax positive, and it’s a liquid, so it flows and it fills all the nooks and crannies and details and every sort of thread of texture, and I’m left with a 500-pound plaster-silica mold with a lump of wax in it. Then comes the fun part. This is actually the very first piece that I made at the factory, and you can see that Steve and I are gerry-rigging pressure pots and rubber hoses because the factory had a different way of working with different types of positives, and [they] had not really melted so much wax out of these plaster forms, so we stayed up and did that part. You can see, today, they built this steam box because they got the message that I wasn’t going away any time soon. So, the wax is steamed out, and there is a cavity left, hopefully and usually exactly the cavity that I sculpted in wax, and a reservoir is built around the top. 

So, this is what a piece looks like, what a mold looks like when it’s ready to go into the oven, and you can see we are now back into the positive. Teresa’s legs are now in the positive plaster form and the dress is in the negative. 

The molds are then dried. That can take up to a week, because they are pretty massive, and then loaded into the oven. The really sort of defining factor, or the unique factor, of the Czech factories is the scale on which they work. Most of you know from the collection here that the Czechs have developed monumental glass casting that doesn’t really exist anywhere else in the world. So, these ovens are completely lined with electric elements and that’s what will melt the glass into the molds. So, here is an oven ready to go, and then the wax; sorry, the glass is stacked into the top of the molds and then the oven is brought up to the melting temperature of the glass, and then the glass flows down into the mold and takes the shape of my wax. Then, the annealing process happens. Annealing is the slow cooling so that the glass doesn’t break into a thousand pieces, and that can take anywhere from six weeks up to two months. You can imagine, at this point, that I’m tearing my hair out, jumping up and down, learning how to be patient, because I have no idea if my project has worked or not because of some small technical glitch. 

So, this is the moment of truth: the molds come out of the oven and you can see that the plaster mold is completely exhausted, so it just sort of crumbles and falls away from the glass. Sometimes, they have to use chisels, which makes me very nervous, and then we take a look at the casting. There is something called touch, which is how the glass has melted into the mold, sort of the level of texture it has taken on.  Sometimes, the mold will shift a little %%bit%% and there will be something called a “flange” of glass sticking out; those need to get ground off. At this point, I work very closely with the coldworkers, telling them what I want to have happen and they do an incredible job of realizing it. There is a lot of back and forth in the work in the factory. 

If things go according to plan, the only thing that really needs to happen is that the reservoirs get cut off, and the pieces get matched together. That’s what’s happening right now. That’s enough to give me a heart attack, so I usually cover my eyes when that’s happening. 

OK, just to refresh your memory, this is the glass; sorry, this is the mold for the bottom piece of Teresa and her dress—the piece here in the museum—and then this is the glass. Positive becomes negative: these are her feet floating in space. This is the hand that was in contact with the drapery. And you can really see the effect that I’m going for is this contact between flesh and fabric.  

And this is the finished piece. [Applause] 

One thing that I felt very strongly about—one of the advantages of lost-wax casting and why I have pursued it—is that it offers an opportunity for detail that I think is not available in other forms of casting. And I think that this layer of detail creates a very intimate relationship between the viewer and the finished piece. 

So, this is, as Tina mentioned, the first time the piece was exhibited, at the Czech Museum of Fine Arts. And with my good, but really not sophisticated, ability to speak Czech, I spoke with the curator, and another friend was there, who actually spoke Czech, and in the end, I said, Well how did it go? And he goes, You’re having a show at the national museum! And I was like, Oh my God, that’s great! And he was like, Yes! [Laughter] 

So, this is how my life happens in the Czech Republic: it’s kind of not so specific. It was a huge honor to be able to exhibit at this museum, and they have an incredible space, which is a Romanesque cellar, so I feel like I’ve been permanently spoiled by having my first exhibition, solo exhibition, in a Romanesque cellar. 

I combined the mirrors and a couple of the dresses and my feeling was that they both dealt with this same human phenomenon, which is: there is a projected self—the imagination of how you think that you look—and then there’s the exterior, which the world sees.  The critical translucent barriers exist, and you become aware of them when you are confronted with your personal image, like when you are looking into a mirror. 

So, where do these ideas come from? This is sort of the more difficult aspect of art-making to talk about, and I thought that one way I could shed light on it is by sharing with you a range of historical references that I collected over the past ten years.  

Where do ideas come from? They come from the brain. I actually, Arthur Danto asked me where I got the idea to make a cast glass dress, and I said, I don’t know, I just wanted to make a dress. [Laughter] Then, I felt that that was a really pathetic answer, and that I needed to learn, so I wrote to Oliver Sacks, who is a renowned brain doctor, a neurosurgeon, and I said, Where do my creative ideas come from? And the answer is, that it comes from the left front lobe of your brain. So, here. [laughter] But, how does it happen? That’s an even more obscure mystery. I think what happens is that a lot of influences come into your mind and then they sort themselves out into some sort of original interpretation. My work clearly makes reference to classical Greek and Roman sculpture. When I came upon these pieces in a museum, what really interested me about them was both the author’s use of drapery to articulate the human figure and also exactly, technically, how they render the folds of fabric in marble. In addition, despite their completely classical origins, this installation looked absolutely contemporary to me. One of the most intriguing aspects, for me, was how these pieces are scarred and fragmented. 

As I sculpt with fabric over my absent figures, as I drape the fabric on the shells, I definitely feel a connection to both these ancient sculptures and to contemporary fashion designers, such as Madame Grès. Madame Grès worked in Paris in the 1920s, and she was known for her series of Grecian gowns. She really pioneered the direct draping of fabric onto the body. And her contemporaries were Man Ray at the Art Academy, so she was really in the milieu of artists. She wrote that because of her gender she was forced to go into fashion, and she felt that if she had been born either a different gender or in a different period of time, she would have been a sculptor. 

So, in my studio, without any awareness at all, I kind of made this female vocabulary of making. I’m sewing, and I’m using hairspray to stiffen the fabric. I use irons to flatten sides of castings before I take them to the factory. I use sewing needles, hairdryers, and it just intrigued me at one point. Somebody came to the studio and they said, This is all female vocabulary. 

So, here I am, hard at work, preparing some drapes. 

This image I liked because it invites simultaneous ideas about presence and absence, and this contradiction is what intrigues me. In my pieces, I also work with this idea of presence and absence, and I think it’s very attractive to people. 

This image is a fountain that I came upon, but what attracted me to it was how the drapery is concealing the face but simultaneously revealing it, articulating the features. 

Now, we are moving into flat paintings. Here is the symbolic use of fabric, and the fabric is used both as a pictorial element and as an indication of wealth. I always call this the age of static cling or irrational drapery, because it’s just not possible, right? I sort of worked with some pieces creating this uplifting drapery. 

In this image, the fabric is used as an indication of spiritual wealth, not monetary wealth. 

Here, I was intrigued by how the fabric became a code; it signified both a hierarchy and a hierarchy inside of a particular monastery, as well as an affiliation with a set of beliefs. 

Here, fabric is used to venerate these ancient sculptures, sort of reactivating them religiously and spiritually. 

In my mind, fabric can be as provocative and sumptuous as human flesh. Here, I love the direct correlation between these folds of the shirt and the folds of her human body. 

Again, just contact between flesh and fabric.  Visual contact. 

As I mentioned a %%bit%% earlier, in the Absence Adorned pieces I not only worked with the dresses, but added pieces of drapery to explore the expressive potential. And here you have a great contrast of the exuberant St. Theresa and the very melancholic St. Agnes. 

In this piece, I worked with an older model and I had her take a seated pose with her hands in her lap, and then, when I was working in the studio, I filled the hands with fabric and then made it overflow and fall onto the ground. And the idea was to express the feeling of loss, that something was getting away from her. 

In making this work, I wanted to explore both the ecstatic use of drapery while raising questions of ephemerality and impermanence. 

Here, the implied human presence accentuates the absence of a human being. And this is a small piece I made, called Discarded Dress, playing with the same idea. 

So, not all my inspirations come from textbooks. I was on a walk one weekend in the Czech Republic, and I came upon these scarecrows, and I thought that this was a great example to show how something can be directly inspirational. 

So, now I’m going to move away from glass for a moment, and talk about how I use prints, again on a monumental scale, to explore the same themes of presence and absence and transparency. I thought, here I am, addicted to transparency, and wouldn’t it be interesting to give myself a challenge of using a completely different set of materials to achieve the same effect. So, you can see, here in the pocket of the jacket, there is a small coin. 

Here, the structure of the dress, the gatherings, in my mind, became a spine, and these wrinkles around the edge became an abstracted ribcage. 

Again, here, you can see the spine and the implied ribcage sort of disappearing into smoke, again dealing with that sort of ephemeral sensation. 

This is the monster press that I use to make the prints, and it was during this residency that it became apparent to my husband that moderation is not my strength! [Laughter] 

Now, I want to go to my most recent exhibition: this is Absence Adorned. It was at the Museum of Glass, in Tacoma. So, this is the group of pieces where I was really working both with the clothed human form and these additional flourishes of drapery. This is the second time that I showed the prints, sorry, the mirrors and the dresses together, but I also incorporated the prints, and you can see a set of drapes cast in glass. I wanted to continue to work with drapery, but move away from the human form, and kind of combine these. . . what I really identify is the translucent boundary between public and private space: the imagined self and the perceived self.  

OK, so that’s sort of my glasswork to date, and now I want to talk about. . . A year and a half ago, I went to Japan, and my point in going there was to study the kimono. I wanted to challenge myself by looking at the same topic through a different cultural lense. I lived in Kyoto, which is the center of kimono-making, and learned as much as I could about kimono-making, and it was not easy. I had to learn to speak a little Japanese, which was a disaster, and ingratiate myself with people, which actually managed to happen magically.  

This is a woman named Akiko Nakamura; she is a fifth-generation brocade weaver. That’s the type of weaving they do to make the obi belts and she basically said, You’re an artist and you need to learn everything about kimono, so come with me.  And she took me around to all the studios of her friends from school. We went to dyeing studios, weaving studios, and days that we weren’t doing that, she and a friend of hers worked with me in her studio, teaching me how to put on kimono, tie obi, how to fold and properly care for the kimono. It was really like she took me on as her surrogate daughter.  

And what is fascinating is how I found the kimono very beautiful, but incredibly rigid. She taught me about the appropriate motifs you wore in which season, what the fabric needed to be. Everything was specific, it was the most highly codified clothing vocabulary I have ever seen. And the other thing that I found is that when you wear the kimono, it completely transforms how you move. I tried to, as much as possible, wear the kimono and go through daily life to learn the body language, because I think that’s very important. 

The second person that I met, who was very key, was Minami-san.  He is a yuzen painter. Yuzen is a style of painting with vegetable dye directly onto silk, using rice paste as a resist. Minami-san was very enthusiatic about my work with glass and he invited me to do a collaborative project with him. Initially, I didn’t want to insult him and said I was trying to work with very Japanese themes, and he said, No, bring your own vocabulary to this.  So, this is the pattern that I gave to him, and it’s just sort of a wrinklage on the fabric of the kimono. So, then we worked together in his studio, and he was very liberal, he would just hand me the paint brush and say, Paint! There’s all these different steps and I thought that we were painting with this paint that becomes invisible when you put it into water, but it turns out that it was the real paint, and I was making a real mess of it, so Minami-san gracefully took over and pulled the project through. So, my contribution was the wrinklage, and his contribution were these beautiful flower motifs.  

This is the layout of the kimono before the colored ink is applied. We had a lot of discussion about color. Of course, I wanted the piece to be completely black and white, and Minami-san said OK, and then it came back in these more colorful than black and white colors. Which was probably a good decision in the end, he is the expert. So then, once the kimono was completed, we needed to sign it, and that’s done with a hanku. So this is Minami-san doing his, and then they actually made for me my own stamp so I could sign the kimono.  

And, there is the finished piece. [Applause] 

So, now I have come back to Prague with about 250 kimonos [laughter]. Much to the pleasure of Korean Air, who surcharged me for doing that.  And now, that’s where I’m at, in my studio, working with this new topic and beginning to think about how I will transform and realize these pieces. 

Thank you very much. [Applause] 

TINA OLDKNOW: Thank you, Karen, for a wonderful talk and a really beautiful documentary on our piece. It’s so valuable to have that information. Are there any questions that people have for Karen? 

AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: (inaudible)  

KAREN LAMONTE: I’ll just repeat the question, if people didn’t hear it. The question was: The glass that I load into the top of the molds appears to be clear, but the piece upstairs does not appear to be perfectly translucent. And the answer is, that is correct, because the finished surface of the piece upstairs is sandblasted and then acid-etched, so it gives it this sort of silky finish. 

AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: Is your next project going to be saris? 

KAREN LAMONTE: You’re reading my mind! [Laughter] Well, I will proceed with the kimonos. The dresses were actually a 10-year endeavor. That will bring me to 50 years old, by the time I finish with the kimonos, so I’ll meet you in India when I’m 50. 

AUDIENCE MEMBER 3: Could you tell us a little %%bit%% about how you made the images on the mirrors that you showed us? 

KAREN LAMONTE: Absolutely. The question was about how the images are engraved on the back of the mirror. It’s basically technology that’s used for making gravestones; it’s a little morbid. It is a gelatin resist that is photo-sensitive, so the image of the photograph is transferred onto that gelatin resist. That is applied to the back of the glass mirror and then it is sandblasted. 

There is a prize for the best question so you shouldn’t be shy! 

AUDIENCE MEMBER 4: Have you worked with your own genealogy? 

KAREN LAMONTE: My own family? I’ve thought about it, actually, because my mother was coming to Prague, and I really wanted to take a body mold off of her. But then she had a %%bit%% of an accident before she came, and I thought, maybe this isn’t the year, but she is coming again in April. And so, I thought that I would definitely like to take a seated pose or a reclining pose of my mother’s body. 

AUDIENCE MEMBER 5: Do you have the hand imprints on many of your sculptures? Because when we take school groups through, the kids think that’s just fascinating. They think it’s the coolest thing in the whole Sculpture Gallery. 

KAREN LAMONTE: I think that there are hand imprints on two pieces. 

AUDIENCE MEMBER 6: I’d like to ask what it is that you find so fascinating about the Japanese kimono, because it seems like that would have far fewer folds, since they are so linear as opposed to the graceful draping of your other projects. 

KAREN LAMONTE: That’s a great question, and it’s exactly the same question Minami-san asked me in Kyoto. He said, Well, what are you going to do, because the ideal Japanese figure is actually a cylinder, for both men and women. In preparing your body to wear the kimono, you apply all these pads, and you basically erase the individual nature of your body, and you wrap the kimono around. That’s exactly what intrigued me, the fact that it’s almost the erasure of the self.  Information comes from your knowledge and your ability to wear exactly the right fabric, to tie the obi in the proper way for the occasion, to have the correct motif for the season. There’s not four seasons in Japan, there’s, like. twenty-four micro-seasons. There’s one kind of flower that’s coming out this week, and you should be dressing appropriately for that, and it’s this extremely particular vocabulary.  So, instead of working with the drapery, which is the Western vocabulary, I’m hoping to find a way to work with that different and very particular vocabulary. 

AUDIENCE MEMBER 7: In your casting process, when you have the wax figure and you have your clothes draped on it, and you’re applying your hairspray and wax, what sort of armature do you have on the inside of the figure to hold it up while you’re working? 

KAREN LAMONTE:  Usually the wax is about two and a half centimeters thick, so a little more than an inch thick, and usually what I do is, after I take the two-part mold, I hold it up with ropes under the arms, and I build a base around the bottom. Once that base is cooled, then the figure can just stand on that base as I’m draping it. 

AUDIENCE MEMBER 8: When I look at your piece, Evening Dress with Shawl, I always think of Vera Wang’s wedding dresses, and I was wondering if she was aware of you as an artist, or has she ever contacted you to commission a sculpture. 

KAREN LAMONTE:  Sadly, she hasn’t. [Laughter] 

AUDIENCE MEMBER 8: Too bad for her! 

KAREN LAMONTE: Feel free to let her know! 


TINA OLDKNOW:  Karen, you said that you have 400 dresses.  Where do you acquire those? I mean, is this a long-term thing, or do you go out shopping specifically for sculpture dresses? How do you do that? 

KAREN LAMONTE:  I actually go out shopping specifically for sculpture dresses, and my main source is Domsey’s, which is a used clothing store in Brooklyn. It’s a giant warehouse, and I go in and clean them out. I don’t try to make any decisions when I’m in the store, I just go for everything, and then when I get home to the studio, I sometimes take apart dresses, or just use one part or another, and put things together. It just becomes a palette. 

TINA OLDKNOW:  Do you destroy the dresses? 


TINA OLDKNOW: Will you destroy your kimonos? 

KAREN LAMONTE:  Yes, the kimonos will be destroyed, I feel guilty already. 

TINA OLDKNOW: Well, thank you, everyone. Thank you for coming. [Applause]