In Phoenix until mid-May 2018, the Desert Botanical Garden is hosting twenty hand-formed, brightly painted and rather large sculptures by Japan-born artist Jun Kaneko. Most of the pieces installed throughout the trail system are abstract, simple and without individual titles. All of them, however, are hand layered, pressed and shaped clay with some that are twice as tall as many Garden visitors. Even the child-size sculptures are weighty, yet several of the pieces in this season’s exhibit are simply enormous for such a medium as ceramics.

Jun Kaneko studio 2013 web image

As interpretive signage explains to visitors upon entry, the tallest of Kaneko’s artwork requires huge 40 foot diameter beehive-shaped kilns with 20-foot ceilings.  After 9 to18 months of drying, the clay is bisque-fired at 2100 degrees Fahrenheit before glazing.  Once glazed, the forms are put in the kiln again for 26 days where temperatures reach 2300 degrees. Whether viewers ‘get’ his signature pallet and humble approach or not, Kaneko’s creations are nonetheless impressive in regard to size and risk.



All Sculpture photos by Andrea Denning unless otherwise noted

The DBG has had many important art installations in the past 20 years and now for a few more months visitors will be surprised and ultimately delighted by the works that greet them, beginning at the admissions area. Unlike some of the past exhibits the Garden has presented where visitors were not allowed to get close to or touch the art, all but a few of these Kaneko’s can be hugged or leap-frogged if you wish. Both children and adults instinctively touch, pat and play around the Kaneko sculptures only asked to ” be gentle and not climb on” the forms. It should be mentioned that Kaneko purposely leaves this work nameless other than the general shapes like ‘Heads’, ‘Dangos’ and ‘Tanuki’ so that the audience is left to derive their own ideas about what each piece “is”.  What each piece is can be termed ‘interactive’ even though the pieces don’t do anything except stand where they were placed by crane or forklift. Kaneko has seemingly perceived some pattern and color combination that subconsciously draws the viewer in and then engages them to touch the cool, glassy surface that is nuanced and more skilled than it would at first appear. The invitingly innocent shapes and colors of these works belies their heft and artistic importance. Truly monumental.

Come visit sunny Phoenix, Arizona soon and be sure to check the DBG’s website ( carefully before visiting as certain admission hours may apply.  The Jun Kaneko exhibit is free with admission.

Kaneko Head Sculpture in Garden setting