Art exhibit shows off vast Japanese art collection at Iowa State

Karen LaMonte’s glass kimono is the first thing a person sees when entering the “Contemplate Japan.”

Logan Metzger

Bright colors of kimonos and strong lines of Japanese woodblock prints fill the Brunnier Art Museum to allow visitors to “Contemplate Japan.”

The “Contemplate Japan” art exhibit opened Wednesday in the Brunnier Art Museum of the Scheman Building and will run to July 31.

The exhibit is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday but is closed on holidays.

The cost is free; however, there is a suggested donation of $3 per visitor.

“The Brunnier Art Museum is our largest museum, and we were closed for about 18 months last year; we just re-opened in September, so this is our second full exhibit,” said Brooke Rogers, interpretive specialist for University Museums. “This is actually a show we have done before; the last time we did it was 1983 or 1987, and the reason why we did it a second time was because a lot of the prints in our collection have not been displayed since the first show.”

“Contemplate Japan” draws pieces from permanent and loaned collections, including Japanese woodblock prints, bamboo baskets, ikebana floral arrangements, kimono, ceramics and contemporary sculpture.

Rogers said there is easily over 300 pieces in the exhibit in a variety of formats and from a variety of artists.

“With us being closed and re-opening, we really want to show what our museum is about by showcasing our collections, engaging students in new and interesting ways,” Rogers said. “This is really a celebration of what our collection has to offer.”

“Contemplate Japan” includes nine different sections focused on a specific art style or idea.

Prints from Paradise

“Japanese woodblock prints quickly captured American and European attention after the Meiji Restoration opened Japan to the world following nearly three centuries of isolation,” according to the University Museums’ website. “The subject focus of early [woodblock prints] was theatre and beautiful women; however, this imagery expanded over time to include military subjects, historical tales, folklore, birds and flowers, ghost stories and landscapes.”

Iowa State College, before it was Iowa State University, was collecting Japanese woodblock prints in the 1920s through the Home Economics Division faculty, and the collection now numbers more than 260 prints.

Layers of Meaning: Kimono

“Dress communicates ideas about an individual’s self that mirror time and society,” according to the University Museums’ website. “One’s identity may be revealed through body modification, supplements and often most explicitly through apparel. While Western culture has had a host of silhouettes and styles, the Japanese kimono stands out with its seeming immortality. The kimono’s earliest ancestor was developed during the 8th century, and because of his longevity, today’s kimono herald’s as the National Dress of Japan.”

This selection of kimono, yukata and obi shows a range of motifs, sleeve styles and colors. A diverse array of traditional Japanese textile design techniques are also shown, further communicating the Japanese style of attention to detail and craftsmanship, according to the University Museums’ website.

Ellen McKinney, Janet Fitzpatrick and Sophia Luu from Apparel, Events and Hospitality Management helped curate the kimono selected from Iowa State’s Textiles and Clothing Museum Collection.

Karen LaMonte: Floating Worlds of the Geisha and Kabuki

“Karen LaMonte has spent much of her artistic career exploring the human form in reference to the clothing or materials that are used to cover and attire a body while also communicating personal and cultural identities,” according to the University Museums’ website. “LaMonte has often used massive cast glass as her medium, employing a painstaking process to create a final product where the human form is removed from the sculpture, yet the impression of the body remains within the clothing.”

In 2007, LaMonte spent a seven-month fellowship in Kyoto through the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission, fully immersing herself in the world of kimono making, decorating and wearing. Through her time in Japan, LaMonte learned how to wear a kimono from a professional dresser and worked with a master kimono maker to design and construct a kimono.

Six years later, her series of sculptures, “Floating World,” was ready for exhibition. Displayed in this exhibit are seven different sculptures by LaMonte.

Priscilla Sage: Floating Worlds of Color

“Just as ikebana and bamboo artists draw on the patterns of the universe, so too does contemporary Ames artist Priscilla Sage in her textile sculptures,” according to the University Museums’ website. “Like many Western artists, in 1984, Sage felt the pull of Japan’s rich and colorful artistic traditions. Within the exhibition, juxtaposed to kimono, obi, Prince, Ceramics, baskets and ikebana, you will find selections of her work in which she drew inspiration from Japan.”

To begin her sculptures, Sage first plans out each element that will be presented and starts by folding a small piece of paper, like origami, making a model of her textile design. According to the University Museums’ website, Sage said she feels that while a computer may save design time, she relies on the feel of the paper in her hands, the folds creating a dimensionality she can manipulate.

The other five sections of the exhibit include: “Peter Hamann: Carving Translucence,” “Doll Festivals,” “Sogetsu Ikebana,” “Bamboo Art Vessels” and “Historic Ceramics.”

Light levels within the exhibit are purposefully kept low to preserve the textiles and works on paper, so Rogers suggests allowing time for visitor’s eyes to adjust to the light levels for a few moments in order to view the art in full detail.

“Contemplate Japan” is organized by the University Museums. Marcia Borel, class of 1978, served as co-curator for the ikebana and education programs. LaMonte, Barbara Janson, Arthur Hilsinger and Karen and Robert Duncan loaned works of art to this exhibition.

There are multiple exhibition programs, and they are all free and open to the public. All programs will be located at the Brunnier Art Museum of the Scheman Building.

In order to attend the programs, University Museums ask that people register in advance by clicking on the program link on its website.