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Nocturne 5

Who Am I? Exhibition

Published onAug 24, 2020
Nocturne 5

© 2017 Karen LaMonte. Photo Credit: Martin Polak.

Nocturne 5, 2017
Karen LaMonte (American, b. 1967)
Cast glass
This acquisition is made possible by donations from Mary and John Pappajohn, Claire Andreasen, Martha Allen, Cal and Frankie Parrott in honor of Callie Parrott Bower, Rachel Flint, Susan and Philip Sargent, Arthur Klein, Diane and James Patton, an anonymous donor, the estate of Neva Petersen, Phyllis and Larry Lepke, Debra and David Engle, Lynette and John Pohlman, Carole Horowitz, Dana Schumacher, and the University Museums membership. Located in Morrill Hall. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.

Artist’s Statement

© 2017 Karen LaMonte. Photo Credit: Martin Polak.

“For twenty years, I have focused on the expression of iconic female beauty in fashion and figurative sculpture. My sculptures of absent female figures – glimpsed through colorless glass garments or imagined in the impression of a hip or bosom within the cloth of a kimono rendered in iron or ceramic – explore the cultural transformation of the nude through dress, embodying culture, gender and persona.

In 2009, I became fascinated by the night, which prompted me to think about the human body in a much larger and more abstract context. How do we interpret the endless space that surround us? How do we place ourselves in it and try to find relevance in a largely indifferent universe?”

© 2017 Karen LaMonte. Photo Credit: Martin Polak.

“My fascination with the night led me to study how we imprint the human figure on the infinite through mythology and constellations, thereby translating it into a language we can understand.”

“I was inspired to make female figurations of night – somber, seductive and inscrutable. Building on the legacy of night meditations from composers such as John Field and Frédéric Chopin and painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler, I called them Nocturnes.”

“I took the figure through a cycle from day to night, from standing to semi-reclining. Working with the body in transition and repose was essential to the sculptures because it conjures the complex emotions and relations of the nocturnal realm.”

“In my earlier dress sculptures, I had used clear glass to emanate light, its radiance revealing the body within. But the Nocturnes required capturing light to make darkness. I needed a colored glass that would give physical mass to deep space.”

“Sculpting with drapery, I envisioned my technique as literally drawing with dusk, a sculptural interpretation of Tenebrism. It took more than two and half years of experimentation to achieve the right balance of color and optical density that could both displace and contain space and light. As I worked, I felt I was gathering darkness around the body.”

Excerpt from Karen LaMonte Nocturnes, Artist Statement, Art Works Publishing, 2019.


© 2017 Karen LaMonte. Photo Credit: Martin Polak.

As soon as I saw the notice of the installation of Nocturne 5 at Iowa State, I was immediately smitten, struck with the desire to view this sculpture in person. Part of my research centers on public statuary in the ancient Roman world, especially portrayals of women. I have seen and studied countless statues from the Classical world and am always impressed by the sculptor's ability to portray a human body out of a block of dense marble.

The medium of dark glass was startling to me because of my familiarity with only marble or bronze statuary. The tone of the material makes me think of a figure stepping out of the dark, perhaps at dusk. The darkness of the glass heightens the hide/reveal quality of the drapery, like a chiaroscuro effect seen in other media. In certain perspectives, the viewer notices different aspects of the form. In fact, that is part of the reason why I appreciate the placement of Nocturne 5 in the foyer of Morrill Hall: it facilitates viewing on all sides. In museums I am always curious if the back side of ancient statuary is finished because often they were placed in niches and the effort was not made to finish the reverses in detail. The back side of Nocturne 5 is finished yet there is less detail than on the front. However, though the drapery is less detailed, more of the human form beneath the clothing is revealed, a voyeuristic glance. The placement also permits the viewer to stand on the stairs to contemplate the sculpture, a perspective that would have been extremely rare in ancient Rome. Most of the time viewers would have looked upward at statues on pedestals or in niches. 

There are many aspects of Nocturne 5 that remind me of Classical sculpture: the way in which the drapery both conceals and reveals the female form underneath; the way in which the cloth envelops the figure; that both arms are bound by that cloth; that the sculpture lacks a head. The Romans conceived of portrait statues as being composed of a portrait head and a statue body, and many of these statue bodies were stock types, repeated thousands of time. This type of composition allows for individualizing the portrait yet a lack of individuality and even uniformity through the statue body, as if they were interchangeable. Yet, the bodies are informative. With Nocturne 5, the position of the arms alludes to motion or an action, though the viewer is left to wonder what was intended.

Since we do not have any large-format Classical sculpture on campus and many students have not had the opportunity to visit museums that do, I like to bring my students here to show them Nocturne 5, to show them how the female form was portrayed, to experience the effects of  seeing a statue in person, rather than photos in a book or on the screen. I have viewed Nocturne 5 many times now, but it continues to thrill me every time.

Dr. Rachel Meyers
Assistant Professor, Classical Studies

© 2017 Karen LaMonte. Photo Credit: Martin Polak.


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