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World-Class Sculpture Shattered at Bartle Hall Plaza by Errant Driver

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2 minute read

By Kevin Collison

Jun Kaneko, a world-renowned sculptor, has works displayed publicly throughout the country and internationally, but last Thursday Kansas City apparently became the first where one was destroyed.

One of the seven, large ceramic works making up his “Water Plaza” installation in the plaza south of the Bartle Hall Grand Ballroom was shattered by a driver who drove off Central Street and down a flight of steps to reach it.

“This is the only time this has ever happened to any of his public works around the U.S. and the world,” said Sherry Leedy of the Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art Gallery.

“It was surprising. This was such an iconic location at Bartle Hall across from the Kauffman Center. That kind of monumental beauty was a wonderful gift to the city.

“It’s a huge loss.”

The Kaneko work destroyed, shown here, was part of a million-dollar public art installation at the plaza south of the Bartle Hall Grand Ballroom called “Water Plaza” (Photo courtesy Paul Middleton|Shadowdancer Images)

Police continue to investigate what happened Thursday night, according to city spokeswoman Maggie Green.

“The damage is irreparable,” Green said in an email.

“The remaining six ceramic forms and a work located inside the building were not damaged. We are exploring the replacement costs and options for moving forward.”

Sgt. Jake Becchina, a police spokesman, said officers arrested a man with a disabled vehicle Thursday at about 10 p.m. about two blocks from the scene near 17th and Broadway on suspicion of driving under the influence.

“While that was happening different officers were called to the area of 15th and Central less than an hour later on a property damage (the damaged art work) potentially related to a hit and run,” he said in an email.

“Through investigation the officers connected both incidents and two separate reports were taken.”

The vehicle that struck the sculpture was driven off Central Street and down a flight of steps to reach the plaza where it was located.

The Kaneko work was installed through the One Percent Art program as part of the Grand Hall ballroom project in 2007. The entire Water Plaza installation was valued at $1 million at the time.

The Omaha-based artist could not be reached for comment, and no estimate could be obtained about what it would cost to replace the piece.

Leedy, who’s gallery has shown Kaneko’s works, said the artist still makes sculptures similar to the one destroyed outside Bartle Hall.

“Jun is one of the most important ceramic artists in the world and certainly of our time,” she said.

“The pieces at Bartle Hall are indicative of his signature work and he’s still doing those kinds of works.”

A source familiar with the incident say it may have been caused when the driver of the vehicle struck the sculpture while attempting to steal the metal hand rails on the steps.

Metal hand rails on the steps leading to the plaza appear to have been cut.

Metal theft has become an increasingly brazen problem in Kansas City.

Just two weeks ago thieves stole a 400-pound bronze sculpture from the Francois Choteau & Native American Heritage Fountain in the Northland and were arrested after trying to sell pieces to a scrap dealer.

A visit to the Bartle Hall plaza site revealed the metal hand rails appeared to have been cut, not bent, during the incident.

James Martin, public art administrator for the city, said its unknown how the driver lost control of their vehicle.

“We’re looking into the incident now and also looking into what our plan will be going forward,” he said.

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