Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Karen LaMonte's "Floating World" at Imagine Museum

Odoriko, 2019, Cast Glass
I fell in love with Karen LaMonte's work the moment I laid eyes on her Rose Gown at the Ringling Museum's Kotler-Coville Glass Pavilion. The diaphanous art glass dress is stunningly beautiful, and although the wearer is absent, there are shadows of her figure that leave no doubt that she is as alluring as her gown. I craved seeing more of her work. Enter Imagine Museum and its exhibit of LaMonte's "Floating World." It is glorious.

LaMonte's Kimono Series is the culmination of eight years of work. The project began with a seven month fellowship in Kyota studying all aspects of kimono production. As her work moved from the conceptual to the physical, LaMonte spent two residencies at the European Ceramics Work Center in the Netherlands developing new technology to create fabric texture and stitching in her work.

In many exhibits, the curator interprets and artist's work for the viewer. But for "Floating World," viewers have the chance to hear directly from LaMonte through wall cards and a video. One wall card contains this explanation about what drew  to LaMonte create this series of work:

Kabuki, 2018, Bronze
"In all cultures, clothing is an unspoken language, but the kimono is the most codified. Every aspect of its design -- including imagery, sleeve length and obi type and tie -- is highly significant, communicating volumes about the wearer.

In place of the West's preconception with the self, the Japanese idea of beauty and its relationship to individuality, the body and nudity highlights group-centered conformity.....In eliminating the defining curves of the female body, making it uniform and neutral, the kimono literally erases the self and individuality, transcending the corporeal beauty of the wearer. By putting on the kimono, one is assuming one's appropriate place in society: its language announces and reproduces that social role."

Young Maiko, 2019, Cast Glass
Like most Westerners, LaMonte struggled to relate to the concept of eschewing individuality in favor of society. In the course of her extensive research, she learned about the Buddhist/Zen concept of Mu, an ideal embraced by the Japanese. It is typically interpreted to mean "nothing" or, to LaMonte, emptiness.

LaMonte shares her eventual interpretation of the concept.

"Mu is not a variant of the Western conception of nothingness or non-being. Rather it is an emptiness that contains all, the realm of enlightenment. Mu is the emptiness of the sky, which contains the universe.

Non-individualism is not non-existence; it is embedded in existence."

Given the non-individualist nature of the project, LaMonte decided against using live models for the creation of her casts. Instead, she used the measurements of a 50th percentile 40 year old  Japanese woman in the year 2000. LaMonte considers these measurements both every woman and no woman.

LaMonte also deviated from her norm by working with materials other than glass for this project. These materials were chosen specifically for their conceptual meanings:

Clay -- Humility
Glass -- Spirituality
Bronze -- Human Intention
Rust -- Transience

I am embarrassed to say that I was so taken with the sculptures that I didn't pay sufficient attention to the gorgeous silk kimonos on display.  The good news is that the exhibit will run through the end of the year, so there's plenty of time for a repeat visit.

To watch a short video in which LaMonte discusses the project, click here. (It is six minutes well-spent.) For more images of the Kimono Series and LaMonte's other work, click here.  And for information on Imagine Museum, click here.  Trust me when I say that this is one exhibit you don't want to miss. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Imagine Museum Does Shakespeare

From the Precipice series 
by Leah Wingfield and Steve Clements
When different art forms interact, creativity explodes. Case in point: the inventiveness on display during St. Petersburg's Celebration of the Arts: Shakespeare. The inaugural city-wide festival challenged arts institutions to develop programming during the month of February related to Shakespeare. Imagine Museum accepted the challenge by exhibiting works of glass art by couples who in turn were challenged to choose a Shakespearean couple and a romantic quote from the applicable play for a special display card. It was brilliant.

The work of Leah Wingfield and Steve Clements has evolved from glass blowing to collaborative sculpting and casting. This photo is a detail from a work in their Precipice series. In the series, they explore the impact of wind, both as a welcome breath of fresh air and as a destructive force. They comment in their website that when two people are on a precipice together, the impact of that wind is diminished.

Ikebana Inspiration (2016) 
by John Littleton and Kate Vogel

Their choice of Shakespearean couple was Romeo and Juliet.  And the quote that spoke to them:

"This bud of love by summer's ripening breath,
May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet."

Kate Vogel and John Littleton have been a team in life and art since 1979. They began their collaboration in the North Carolina studio of John's father Harvey Littleton, himself a glass artist of acclaim. They chose Rosalind and Orlando from As You Like It as their couple, along with this beautiful quote:

"No sooner met but they looked, no sooner looked but they loved, no sooner loved but they sighed, no sooner sighed but they asked one another the reason, no sooner knew the reason but they sought the remedy, and in these degrees they made a pair of stairs to the marriage."

By Chrstine Bothwell and Robert Bender
Christina Bothwell and Robert Bender are part of the Glass Secessionist Movement, a group of artists who focus on the narrative in their work rather than the materials. This picture is a detail from a work that features seven children sitting on a bench. Some figures contain references to nature, such as the butterflies embedded in the second child. It's impossible to look at this sculpture without creating a story about who and where these children are and what they're doing.

The couple's collaboration grew out of their work in different art forms. While Bothwell has always been a glass artist, Bender spent 20 years illustrating children's books. He became a glass artist in this own right after assisting Bothwell with her work.

 Helena and Demetrius from A Midsummer Night's Dream were Bothwell and Bender's selection. The quote:

"Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind."

By Kelly O'Dell and Raven Skyriver
Kelly O'Dell and Raven Skyriver create work individually and together that is inspired by nature. (The reptile is their creation; the gorgeous white bamboo wall is by Debora Moore.) The pair met at Pilchuk, an art glass school founded by Dale Chihuly. They live on the San Juan Islands of Washington state. Their work has clearly struck a chord with many art glass lovers. Their Kickstarter campaign to build a studio on their home island of Lopez has raised close to $125,000, nearly double their goal. (Having their studio on-island will save them 10,000 miles of commuting time each year.)

Their Shakespearean selection was Pericles and Thaisa from Pericles, Prince of Tyre. I have to admit to never having heard of this play. But the quote could not be more apt:

"To me he seems like diamond to glass."

By Jenny Pohlman and Sabrina Knowles 
Shakespearean couple: Biron and Rosaline 
from Love's Labour Lost
Kudos go out to the organizers and sponsors of St. Petersburg's Celebration of the Arts. If I'd known about the festival sooner, I would have taken in some of the other offerings, which included "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Aren't Dead" improv inspired by Hamlet, St. Petersburg's Winter Opera "Kiss Me, Kate" (Cole Porter's take on Taming of the Shrew) and an exhibit and lecture at Florida CraftArt built around the quote "I as rich in having such a jewel" from The Two Gentleman of Verona. Happily, plans are already in the works for next year's celebration, which will include events and exhibits around the theme of tolerance, civility and acceptance.

Kudos as well to Imagine Museum for participating in the celebration. It was just icing on the cake of my first visit to this amazing museum.

Next up in this blog: Karen LaMonte's "Floating World" exhibit now on display at the museum.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Touring Asolo Rep's Koski Production Center

On the set of "Noises Off"
Who wouldn't like to take a whirl on the set of a professional theater production?  I recently had the chance to do just that -- almost literally, as we watched the set for Asolo Rep's upcoming production of "Noises Off" revolve mere inches before us. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Ten years ago, Asolo Rep had the opportunity to purchase the nearly 37,000 square foot building that is now the Robert and Beverly Koski Production Center. Vic Meyrich, Production Manager and Head of Operations since 1969, said it was a dream come true. Renting a scenic design shop for the theater on a month-to-month basis was nerve wracking to say the least. But, as always, it came down to money.

The building was in foreclosure at a listing price of $2.4 million. Thanks to some expert negotiation, the purchase price was reduced to $1.6 million -- with the caveat that the transaction be closed by year end, a mere ten days away. Asolo Rep conjured up the "big magic of the community" and got the deal done. Today, the state of the art facility builds sets for Asolo Rep and for other arts organizations, including the Sarasota Opera, the Straz and Universal.

Our first stop on the tour was the props department. (Why I've never figured out that "props" is short for "properties" is beyond me.)  The Asolo boasts 8,000 square feet of storage space for the props that have been accumulated over the last 60 years. To find what you're looking for in the double decker area seems more than a little daunting. But despite the lack of a precise inventory system, it somehow works out.

You might expect that in a space that size, the theater would have pretty much every prop it needs for a production. Nope. Each show has unique needs for props to be located, purchased, made or borrowed. These suitcases, for instance, were made by the carpentry department for the summer production of "Around the World in 80 Days." The barber chair for "Sweeney Todd" will come from a previous production of the show at Theatre Latte Da, director Peter Rothstein's home base.

The front of the set for "Noises Off"
While the entire tour was fascinating, the star was the set for "Noises Off." The show is a play-within-a-play about a less than finely tune acting troupe putting on a sex farce. As expected, there are lots of moving parts, complete with many entrances and exits through slamming doors. The trick to the play, though, is that the audience also sees what's happening backstage.

In a typical production, scenic designers only have to worry about one side of the set. Here, both sides of the "theater" will be on view for the audience. Our guide David Ferguson, who serves as the Theatre's Technical Director when not giving tours, noted this essentially converts the set into a sculpture. The set sits on a 26' revolve, and we got a preview of how smoothly it operates.

The back of the set for "Noises Off"
The repertory nature of Asolo Rep makes this already complicated set even more complex. With minor exceptions, each performance of "Noises Off" will be preceded or followed by another show on the same day. As a result, there will be many set changeovers during the course of the show's run.

"Will the set fit into the allocated backstage space?" one savvy theatergoer asked. "We don't know yet," Ferguson responded with a laugh. But he assured us this contingency had been planned for by the team. A portion of the floor of the set can be taken up if need be.

The rehearsal process is also a bit more complicated than usual for "Noises Off." For most shows, the actors rehearse in the studio adjacent to the production area. But the set is such an integral part of "Noises Off" that rehearsals in the faux theater are required. I'm not sure how they're handling the noise factor; it was difficult to hear some of Ferguson's explanations with drills and power saws at work all around us. But I'm confident they've figured out a work-around.

And speaking of rehearsals, fundraising is ongoing for a new state of the art rehearsal complex. One challenge of the current space is the ceiling height. Take, for instance, rehearsals for "Evita." Ana Isabelle/Eva climbing those amazing stairs to sing "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" was an incredible moment in the show. Not so much during rehearsals, though, when Ana had to crouch at the top of the stairs and belt out the number.

As always, getting a peek behind the scenes at what's involved in bringing a show from the page to the stage was great fun. "Noises Off" will run from March 22 through April 20. You can purchase tickets by clicking here.  I can't wait.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Designing A Doll's House, Part 2

When Robert Perdziola was a child, he loved playing with dolls. He'd often draw clothing for them and sometimes even made their outfits. This pastime was not well-received in the blue collar neighborhood of Pittsburgh in which he was raised.

Perdziola was welcomed, though, into Carnegie Mellon's Drama Department. (The Fine Arts Department appreciated his talent, but suggested he get in touch with reality when he showed them his portfolio with drawings of Liza Minelli and Barbra Streisand.) He had found a home -- and a place where his talent was nurtured and grew. His resume includes costume and set designs for the Metropolitan Opera, the American Ballet Theatre, and the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.

Perdziola's resume also includes multiple stints at Asolo Rep, where he designed "Living for Love" and "Rhinoceros." His designs appear this season in "A Doll's House, Part 2." Perdziola recently spoke at a Designer Brunch at the theater, and I was front and center.

Perdziola was quite frank that what appealed to him about designing the show was the complicated issues of marriage it raises rather than the costume design opportunity. After all, the show has only four characters and no costume changes. (By way of contrast, "The Music Man," Asolo Rep's season opener, required more than 80 costumes for its large cast.)

The show takes place in the 1890s. Nora has just returned home after a 15 year absence from her home and family. She is a successful writer whose life has radically changed. So has the life of her daughter Emmy, who is now a grown woman. Perdziola walked us through his designs for these characters.

Perdziola confessed that his design for Nora's dress is a "straight up steal" from the House of Worth. The couturier was established in Paris in 1858, and women traveled from around the world to purchase their dresses there. Perdziola reminded us this was a time well before ready wear existed.

Perdziola didn't select this design in a vacuum, though. When developing his costumes, he becomes familiar with the people who will wear them. He creates sketches and watercolors of his ideas. His initial instinct was to dress Nora in black. Director Peter Amster vetoed this choice because he felt black would be too severe given the play's comedic elements. So instead, Nora wears a rich maroon.

Perdizola noted that the original House of Worth design included a petticoat, which he has eliminated. "It doesn't change the way the story comes out," he said with a laugh. Kate Hampton/Nora will, however, wear a corset. Perdziola was quite funny when he talked about this component of costume design. "You have to figure where the excess 'skin' will come out," he said. It's a dilemma with which any woman who's worn Spanx is familiar. (I suspect it's not an issue for Hampton.)

Perdziola and Amster also had slightly different views about how to portray Emmy. To Perdziola, Emmy is a free thinker; Amster considers her a bit old-fashioned. Perdziola's challenge was to design a dress that would bridge this gap.

Perdziola turned to the House of Paquin, another French fashion house established in the 19th century. (As an aside, according to Wikipedia, Jeanne Paquin was the first major female couturier and set the stage for the modern fashion business. You can read more about her by clicking here.) Olivia Osol, who plays Emmy, is not burdened with either petticoat or corset.

It is worth noting that while Perdziola's designs were inspired by the Houses of Worth and Paquin, respectively, the dresses were built in-house at Asolo Rep.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Perdziola also designed the minimalist set for the show. Playwright Lucas Hnath has said he envisions the set as more a forum where a battle will take place than a genteel living room. Building off this concept, Perdziola has created a sparse design whose curved lines mimic those of a Roman forum.

As always, getting the inside scoop on the design of a show will enhance my viewing pleasure. While not a design issue, I'm also fascinated by the fact that David Breitbarth and Kate Hampton, who play Torvald and Nora, are spouses in real life. I'm betting their relationship will bring an exciting depth to the characters. Unfortunately, I have to wait until late March to find out.

To get tickets to see "A Doll's House, Part 2" (or any of the other shows in Asolo Rep's season), click here.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Being a Literacy Buddy

Reading has always been a big part of my life. When I was a kid, I remember my parents encouraging me to go outside and play on the week-ends. And while I did venture out for the occasional game of kickball, I found the world of books much more interesting. So when my friend Jo Ann told me about the Early Learning Coalition's Literacy Buddies Program, I was all in.

The concept behind the program is simple. Three times a year, participants receive a picture from a child that relates to their current interest. I was thrilled when I got this picture of a T-Rex (obviously) from my new buddy Fisher, age 3.

The ball was then in my court to find an age-appropriate book about dinosaurs to send to Fisher. It was a blast to go to the children's section of Barnes and Noble and check out its offerings. Happily, several shelves were dedicated to books about dinosaurs. Who knew?

"Roar" by Michael Paul was my choice. I fell in love with the book's vibrant illustrations of all types of dinosaurs, including the T-Rex. The simple text contains basic facts about dinosaurs. Did you know that some dinosaurs lived solitary lives while others lived in groups?

Having selected my book, the next step was to write a letter to Fisher to send along with it. A quick search of available clip art yielded a picture of a T-Rex that I could drop into my note. (One thing my sister has taught me is to work a theme.)  With that, my package was ready to send off to my new friend. I hope he likes it. I am already eagerly awaiting my next letter, although it will be some time since the program provides for a child to receive only three books each year.

Participating in the Literacy Buddies program prompted me to find out a bit more about the Early Learning Coalition of Sarasota County. Its mission is "to prepare children for lifelong success through quality early learning." The Coalition serves 4,000 children each year on a budget of $11M. .

The Coalition's work includes management of a Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Program that readies four year olds to start school. It administers our community's Look for the Stars child care rating system and provides child care scholarships to local families. And it offers a variety of resources to parents (who are, after all, a child's first teachers).

For more about the Early Learning Coalition's program, click here. Volunteers for the Literacy Buddies program are always needed. Since it's all done by mail, there's no need to live in Sarasota to participate. Join the fun!

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

To Infinity and Back with Yayoi Kusama

I was a bit outraged when I read the fine print on my ticket to see Yayoi Kusama's "Love Is Calling" Infinity Room. Two measly minutes in the room? The timed ticket was for a half hour time slot. Despite the fact I had no idea what the experience would actually be like, my knee jerk reaction was that I was going to be shortchanged. I was wrong.

Since 1965, Kusama has been creating her mirrored infinity rooms. Her earliest installations included soft sculptures of phalluses. Hmm. Even her "Love is Calling" creations reminded me of Cappadocia. (Google it if you don't know what I'm talking about.)

The polka dots are Kusama's real signature, though. She includes them in nearly all her artwork. According to a wall card, Kusama considers both the polka dot and infinity to "signify the relationship between mortals and the unknown expanse of the universe."

Can you spot me in this infinity room?
Kusama has also explained her perception of polka dots by saying, "Dots are symbols of the world, the cosmos. Earth is a dot, the moon the sun, the stars are all made up of dots. You and me, we are dots." Her intention in creating these immersive polka-dotted infinity rooms is to allow viewers to both be part of and subsumed by the environment.

I certainly felt I had become one with her somewhat dizzying world. When you enter the room, the doors are shut so you are wholly immersed. The sculptures change colors as the seconds tick past. The shifting colors give you the sense the sculptures are undulating as you move around them. The mirrors give the room a fun-house feel; you almost lose track of which side is up.

Throughout the viewing, you hear Kusama reciting a poem she wrote entitled Residing in a Castle of Shed Tears. Kusama's recitation is in Japanese, so for me it added to the sense that I'd been dropped into another world. An English translation appears outside the room and begins,

"When the time comes around for people to encounter the end of their life
having put on years, death seems to be quietly approaching
It was not supposed to be my style to be frightened of that, but I am...."

When I exited the room with my nine fellow viewers, my head was spinning -- not necessarily in a good way. Two minutes was plenty. Notwithstanding my lingering headache, I'm glad to have experienced a Kusama Infinity Room. And it was definitely that -- an experience.

To read more about Kusama and why she's become such a star in the artworld, click here.  And for a fascinating article about the history of immersive installations, including an exhibit created more than 200 years ago by Jacques-Louis David, click here.

Kusama's "Love Is Calling" Infinity Room will be on display at the Tampa Museum of Art through February 14. Click here for further information and tickets.

Friday, January 18, 2019

"Little" by Edward Carey

Most likely, you've come across a Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum at some point in your travels. If you're like me, you were initially intrigued/impressed, but quickly began to view the wax sculptures as kitsch. But think back to the 18th century, a time before photography -- much less the internet -- existed. This is the world Edward Carey drops us into in "Little," his novelization of the life of the girl who became Madame Tussaud.

Truthfully, I didn't realize the book was about Madame Tussaud when I purchased it. It was Carey's wonderful (and sometimes gruesome) illustrations that led me to pick up his novel. I was all in from the preface, which promises "lost children, lost parents, ghosts of monkeys, tailor's dummies...the man who was shop dolls, his mother a mogul, the man who collected murderers...scenes of historical import...massacres of innocents, murders witnessed, bodies taken apart, blood on the streets, misery, prison, loss of everything, marriage, memories captured and contained, calamity daily exhibited, history owned."  It's all in there -- and then some.

"I have cast a wood pigeon to play the
role of my mother." 
Each chapter sets out a timeframe and Marie's age during the period. She is a charming narrator and helpfully highlights key events in the upcoming chapter. The real story gets under way in Book One -- 1767-1769 (A One-Way Street -- "Until I am eight years old.") Marie describes the action in Chapter Three as "in which my mother and I are introduced to many wonderful things, some of them in rosewood cases, and I come to witness my second death."

Sadly, the deaths that she witnessed were those of her parents. After her father died, young Marie (known as "Little" due to her diminuitive stature) and her mother headed to Berne to housekeep for Doctor Curtius. His home and occupation so freaked out Marie's mother that she hung herself.

What, you might ask, could be that dreadful? Curtius was fascinated with the human body. His atelier was overflowing with body parts. The fact they were made of wax did not assuage the horror Marie's mother felt.  But to Marie, a new and exciting world had opened its doors.

Edmond, the widow's son
Curtius takes Marie under his wing and teaches her his trade. Marie learns that Curtius' work extends beyond creating wax sculptures of organs. He also crafts waxen sculptures of clients' heads. When Curtius decides to leave Berne for Paris, Marie begs to come. She reminds him of her unusual resume. "I can smooth people's faces down, I can put straws up nostrils."

"Something has happened," Curtius responds. "Something extraordinary. Just as the smaller radius bone is fused to the taller ulna, just as the fibula is to the tibia: we are connected. You and I....I shall not do without you."  (Yes, this is a man who has a somewhat limited frame of reference.)

Former residents of the Monkey House
So the pair head off to Paris where a ridiculous number of adventures await them. They move in with a widow and her extremely strange son Edmond (with whom Little becomes enamored). Curtius' waxen portraits are new to Parisian society and are a great hit.

But all businesses must evolve. Curtius lands upon the somewhat grisly idea of sculpting the heads of murderers. Keep in mind that in order to do this, the actual head must be obtained. Conveniently, the guillotine was the instrument of choice for putting criminals to death.

The widow, whose husband was a tailor, decides to put the wax heads on mannequins and costume them. The exhibit becomes so popular the group move to a much larger space (that happened to be the previous home of a bunch of monkeys). The precursor to Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum had come into existence.

The Royal Family enjoying a meal
The story of Little is so crazy that it's hard to believe even a portion of it is true. It's thought, for instance, that Marie may have lived at Versailles and served as the art tutor to a young Elisabeth of France, sister to Louis XVI. Carey embraces this possibility in "Little," sending Marie off to live with the Royal Family. And who not? It gives readers a peek into their lifestyles and customs.

Frankly, I don't care how closely Carey's story aligns with history, as he's written an original, creative and thoroughly enjoyable book. But "Little" is more than a fun ride. It's the story of  a girl who is called upon to muster her inner resources time and time again. While Marie may have been small in stature, she is large in heart, mind and commitment to survive and thrive. I couldn't recommend "Little" more highly.

For more about Tussaud and the book, click here to read an article Carey wrote for The Guardian about Tussaud and his work at one of her musuems.

Karen LaMonte's "Floating World" at Imagine Museum

Odoriko, 2019, Cast Glass I fell in love with Karen LaMonte's work the moment I laid eyes on her Rose Gown at the Ringling Museum&...