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Frank Lloyd Wright's Martin House provides backdrop to Jun Kaneko sculptures in public art exhibition
Installation view of The Space Between: Frank Lloyd Wright | Jun Kaneko at Frank Lloyd Wright's Martin House. Photograph by Brenda Bieger.

BUFFALO, NY.- The Albright-Knox’s Public Art Initiative has partnered with Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House to present an exciting installation featuring artist Jun Kaneko's monumental ceramic sculptures on view through early October 2021. Titled The Space Between: Frank Lloyd Wright | Jun Kaneko, the installation comprises seven of the artist’s enormous, freestanding ceramic works for outdoor display on the newly restored grounds of the Martin House estate, as well as a series of smaller works on view inside the visitor center.

Born in Japan in 1942, Kaneko is an internationally renowned artist primarily known for his pioneering work in ceramic materials. His large pieces, called dangos, are the result of a complex traditional Japanese raku firing and glazing process that produces unique geometric shapes and vibrant color combinations.

“In this era of social distancing, the safe, engaging, stimulating experience that public art provides is more important than ever before,” said Janne Sirén, Albright-Knox Peggy Pierce Elfvin Director. “We are proud to collaboratively present this exhibition with the Martin House as our organizations strive to fulfill our missions of enriching and transforming our community.”

Wright and Kaneko were both pioneers in their fields, and Wright had an enduring interest in Japanese arts and culture and a reverence for nature, all of which are beautifully captured in Kaneko’s work.

“This public art installation is a unique opportunity to experience the interaction between Kaneko's sculptures, Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture, and the surrounding landscape,” said Mary Roberts, Martin House Executive Director. “The site is now reopened to public tours, and the artwork has provided another reason to visit the estate.”

Many of Kaneko's works represent years of production time due to their immense scale, which takes months to slowly build up to avoid the works being crushed under their own weight. The tallest works in the exhibition are more than 10 feet tall with walls in excess of three inches thick and weigh close to 3,000 pounds. Their fired slip-surfaces create a glasslike coating suitable for outdoor public display in the extreme weather conditions that will occur during the sixteen-month installation.

In addition to the seven large works on the grounds, several smaller works will be on view inside the Eleanor and Wilson Greatbatch Pavilion, the Martin House public visitor center. The selection of works for the installation has been curated by Albright-Knox Public Art Curator Aaron Ott and organized by Martin House Curator Susana Tejada.

Kaneko, born in Nagoya, Japan, in 1942, is considered one of the world’s preeminent ceramic artists working today. Through the late 1950s and early 1960s, Kaneko studied painting in Japan under Satoshi Ogawa. With Ogawa's counsel, Kaneko, who had never been to the United States and spoke no English, arrived for the first time in August 1963 at age 21.

Kaneko became connected to Los Angeles–based collectors and patrons who invited him to stay at their home and helped acquaint him with American culture. Coincidently, they were enthusiasts of contemporary ceramics, so Kaneko spent three weeks among extraordinary works by avant-garde California ceramic artists who inspired him to take up the medium of clay in his own work.

A 1982 part-time residency at the Alternative Worksite (now the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts) in Omaha, Nebraska, and the concurrent opportunity to use one of the enormous beehive kilns at the Omaha Brickworks, provided Kaneko the means to experiment with a radical jump in scale. The chance to pursue even more ambitiously scaled works arose ten years later when he was granted access to the out-of-service beehive kilns at Mission Clay Products in Fremont, California. Accompanied by three assistants, Kaneko brought the necessary equipment from Omaha and proceeded to mix a ton of clay every other day for nearly three months. From these opportunities and experiments, the signature forms of his monumental dangos emerged.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House, designed and built from 1903 to 1905, is considered by Wright scholars to be one of the finest achievements during Wright’s Prairie house period. The estate consists of the main Martin House, pergola, conservatory, carriage house, Barton House, and a gardener’s cottage, totaling nearly 32,000 square feet. Wright called the Martin House his “opus” and had its plans tacked above his drafting board for decades. A twenty-five year, multi-million-dollar reconstruction and restoration of the entire estate, including Wright-designed landscape, was completed in 2019. The historic Martin House estate reopened for public tours and events during Phase Four of the New York State plan with enhanced safety protocols.

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