One of the joys of attending the head’s unveiling was hearing Kaneko recount the story of his career. Born in Nagoya Japan in 1942, he studied painting in his teens with artist Satoshi Ogawa. He immigrated to the United States in 1963 to continue his studies. He attended Chouinard Institute of Art where he met Fred Marer, who sparked his interest in ceramic sculpture. From there Kaneko went on to study with Peter Voulkos, Paul Soldner, and Jerry Rothman as part of the Contemporary Ceramics Movement. He has taught at some of the preeminent sculpture schools in North America, including Scripps College, Rhode Island School of Design, and Cranbrook Academy of Art.
Relocating to Omaha, Nebraska in 1986, Kaneka has experimented with his ceramic practice. He has worked with a variety of experimental studios such as European Ceramic Work Center in The Netherlands and the Otsuka Omi Ceramic Company in Japan to expand his practice. He also branched out into other media, working with the Fabric Workshop in Philadelphia PA and the Bullseye Glass in Portland OR. Currently, Kaneko is with the Cuernavaca Raku ceramics studio to study the volatility of raku and experiment with the creation of new glazes.
Jun Kaneko is also committed to creating public works and has so far completed over 50 commissions. These pieces include two 350 foot long installation known as Tile Walls in Boston’s Aquarium Station. That project was completed in 2000 after seven years of work. He has also created large scale sculptures for Osaka Japan, Bartle Hall in Kansas City, and the International Financial Centre in Shanghai. Not merely satisfied with creating sculptures, Kaneko has also designed sets and costumes for three different operas: Puccini’s Madame Butterfly (2006), Beethoven’s Fidelio (2008), and Mozart’s The Magic Flute (2012) Each of these productions were touring as late as the spring of 2016.
As amazing as Kaneko’s varied works are, it’s his giant heads that capture people’s imaginations. According to the Gardiner’s curator, Rachel Gotlieb, the heads are relatable and accessible to people on an emotional level. “While the eyes are closed, it still connects with everyone.”*
The untitled piece gracing the entrance to The Gardiner Museum serves multiple purposes. Most importantly, it presents a face, quite literally, for the museum’s ceramic collection to passersby on the street. Of secondary import, the illuminated head provides an easily recognizable meet-up spot, as well as an epic selfie opportunity, day or night, for all those school kids making their way to the ROM.
The title for this piece comes from the children’s song: Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes.
* Let’s meet in front of the head”, 2017, http://news.nationalpost.com/toronto/gardiner-museum-of-ceramic-art-jun-kaneko-sculpture, National Post