Monolith: Quick Bite

Today on Museum Quick Bites we’re serving up a sweet treat. Jun Kaneko’s sleek, black-on-white sculpture is a visual delight. Tricked out in a drippy, geometric pattern, this untitled piece was inspired by dango, a sweet Japanese dumpling. Zoom in and notice how each rectangle resembles a block of bristles on a paintbrush. The inky paint from their uneven tips appears to seep down the surface of the dango. Note the actual drip lines at the base.

Untitled (Large Dango) by Jun Kaneko (b. 1942), Grand Rapids Art Museum, Photo by cjverb (2019)

I came across this piece a couple of years ago at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. Standing alone in a sectioned off portion of the gallery (see below), Kaneko’s sculpture reminded me of a funky monolith. Remember the much tamer version in 2001: A Space Odyssey?

Left: Untitled (Large Dango) by Jun Kaneko (b. 1942), Grand Rapids Art Museum, Photo by cjverb (2019)

Right: 2001: A Space Odyssey Monolith, LA County Museum of Art, Photo by MJ Cotter, Wikimedia Commons

Dave Bowman:  Open the pod bay doors HAL.

HAL:  I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.

~2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Click on this 2001: A Space Odyssey link to watch this creepy scene play out.

Jun Kaneko was born in Nagoya, Japan in 1942. During high school, he studied with painter, Satoshi Ogawa. At age 21, Kaneko moved to the United States to study at the Chouinard Art Institute where he developed a passion for ceramic sculpture. Kaneko subsequently enrolled in UC Berkeley to work with Peter Voulkos, a leader in the Contemporary Ceramics Movement.

Left: Untitled (Dango; 2007) by Jun Kaneko (b. 1942), Minneapolis Institute of Art

Top Right: Botchan Dango by Maakun, Wikimedia Commons

Bottom Right: Untitled (glazed stoneware over slip; 1984) by Jun Kaneko, Smithsonian American Art Museum

After receiving his degree, Kaneko taught art at various institutions including Scripps College,the Rhode Island School of Design and the Cranbrook Academy of Art. In 1986, he settled in Omaha, Nebraska. A prolific and multi-talented artist, Kaneko’s paintings, drawings, glass and ceramic sculptures, as well as his ongoing Dango series, can be found in museums, galleries, and public spaces throughout the world. I was delighted to stumble across one of Kaneko’s massive ceramic heads (another ongoing series! see below) during one of my road trips to Toronto.

Left: Untitled (Head) by Jun Kaneko (b. 1942), Toronto, Photo by cjverb (2016)

Right: Untitled (Dango; 2007) by Jun Kaneko (b. 1942), Minneapolis Institute of Art

Kaneko has also added set designer to his resume. He has crafted sets for Fidelio, Madame Butterfly, and The Magic Flute operas. If you’d like to view more of his work, click on this Jun Kaneko link courtesy of his website.

Fun Arty Fact:  On November 18, 2020 a metal monolith, similar to the one featured in 2001: A Space Odyssey, was sited in a remote section of the Utah desert. Like the clown sightings, although much less creepy, the desert monolith went viral and more monoliths started popping up around the world. However, within 10 days the Utah desert monolith “mysteriously” disappeared. Click on this CNN video clip to see more.

Cover photo by Patrick A. Mackie, courtesy of Pixabay.

That concludes our look at Jun Kaneko’s sweet art. I’ll be back next week with more Museum Quick Bites. In the meantime, be safe, be kind, and take care 🙂


ArtNet: Jun Kaneko

CNN: Mysterious Monoliths Spotted Across the World

Grand Rapids Art Museum

IMDB: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Los Angeles Times: Fred Marer Obituary (2002)

Minneapolis Institute of Art: Jun Kaneko

New York Times: Utah Monolith Removed

Philadelphia Museum of Art: Jun Kaneko

Smithsonian American Art Museum: June Kaneko

University of Iowa Stanley Museum: Jun Kaneko

Wikimedia Commons: Jun Kaneko

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