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Jun Kaneko

 (born 1942)
Jun Kaneko is active/lives in Nebraska / Japan.  Jun Kaneko is known for ceramic ovoid monolith-dangos.

Jun Kaneko

Biography from the Archives of askART

Jun Kaneko was born in Nagoya, Japan in 1942, and immigrated to Los Angeles in 1963.


1970: Claremont Graduate School, Claremont, CA, studied under Paul Soldner
1966: University of California, Berkeley, CA, studied under Peter Voulkos
1964: Chouinard Art Institute, Los Angeles, CA
California Institute of Art, Los Angeles, CA
Studied ceramics at Jerry Rothman's studio, Paramount, CA


1979-86 Cranbrook Academy of Art; 1973-75 Rhode Island School of Design; 1974 Scripps College; 1972-73 University of New Hampshire.

Known for high, rounded monolithic glazed forms known as dangos (Japanese for dumpling), he has stayed on a path that makes him unique and sets him aside from other ceramists. Because many of his dango forms are very large, they are a challenge in the firing process.

His studio is in the Bemis Project in downtown Omaha, Nebraska. He has public sculpture in Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, the Boston Subway and Waikiki Aquarium as well as representation in major museums including the Los Angeles County Museum and Philadelphia Museum.

Grants and Honors:

2005 Honorary Doctorate, Royal College of Art, London; 1996 Fellow of the American Craft Council; 1994 Honorary Member of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts;
1994 Nebraska Arts Council Fellowship; 1985 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship;
1979 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship; 1967 Archie Bray Foundation Fellowship.

Public Collections:

Aichi-Prefecture Museum of Ceramics, Nagoya, Japan; American Crafts Museum, New York; Arabia Museum, Helsinki, Finland; Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock AR; Arizona State University Art Museum, Phoenix AZ; Banff Centre of Fine Arts, Walter Phillips Gallery, Banff, Alberta, Canada; California State University, Sacramento, CA; Cranbrook Academy of Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills MI; Detroit Institute of Art, Detroit MI; European Ceramic Work Center, s'Hertogenbosch, Netherlands; Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse NY; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco CA; Gifu-Ken Museum, Gifu, Japan; Honolulu Academy of Art, Honolulu HI; Ichon World Ceramic Center, Seoul, Korea; Japan Foundation, Tokyo, Japan; Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha NE; Longhouse Reserve, East Hampton NY; Los Angeles County Museum, Los Angeles; Montgomery Museum of Art, Montgomery AL; Museum Het Kruithis, s'Hertogenbosch, Netherlands; Nagoya City Museum, Nagoya, Japan; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City MO; Northern Arizona State University, Flagstaff AZ; Oakland Museum, Oakland CA; Olympic Museum of Ceramic Sculpture, Athens, Greece; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia PA; Queensland Art Gallery, South Brisbane, Queensland, Australia; Sacramento State College, Pasadena CA; Scripps College, Claremont CA; Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, Lincoln NE; Shigaraki Ceramic Museum, Shigaraki, Japan; Smithsonian National Museum of American Art, Renwick Gallery, Washington DC; Takamatsu City of Art, Takamatsu, Japan; The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu HI; The Marer Collection at Scripps College, Claremont CA; The Museum of Modern Art, Wakayama, Japan; Toyota City Museum, Toyota, Japan; University of Florida Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, Gainesville FL; University of Iowa Museum of Art, Iowa City IA; University of Wyoming Art Museum, Laramie, WY; Weber State University, Ogden UT; Yamaguchi Museum, Yamaguchi, Japan. 

Public Comissions:
2004: City of Omaha, Hilton Omaha, Omaha NE; San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco CA; San Jose Repertory Theater Plaza, San Jose CA; Western Asset Plaza, Pasadena CA; 2002: Grand Hyatt Hotel, Rippongi Tower, Tokyo, Japan; 2001: University of Washington Medical Center, Seattle WA; 2000: Beaverton City Library, Beaverton OR; Manchester Community Technical College, Manchester CT; 1999: Mount Mercy College, Busse Center, Cedar Rapids IA; 1998: Waikiki Aquarium, Honolulu HI; 1997: University of Connecticut, Biology and Physics Building, Storrs CT ; New McCormick Center, Chicago IL; 1996: Aichi-Prefecture, Sannomaru Multiple Use Building, Nagoya, Japan; 1995: North Carolina State University, Graduate Engineering Center, Raleigh NC;Yamashita Hospital (Project 2), Ichinomiya, Japan;The University of Texas at San Antonio, College of Business, San Antonio TX; 1994 Maishima Sports Arena, Osaka, Japan; Salt Palace Convention Center, Salt Lake City UT; 1993: Yamashita Hospital (Project 1), Ichinomiya, Japan; Aquarium Station, Massachusetts Transportation Bureau, Boston MA; University of Akron, Polsky Building, Akron OH; 1990: Arizona State University Plaza-West Campus, Phoenix AZ; Phoenix Airport, Terminal Four, Phoenix AZ; 1985: Detroit People Mover, Detroit MI; 1982: Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia PA. 

Selected Solo Shows

2006: Tropical Reflection:  Drawings Paintings and Sculpture by Jun Kaneko, The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu HI; Jun Kaneko, Bentley Projects, Phoenix AZ; Madama Butterfly, Costumes, Set, Properties and Projections by Jun Kaneko, Opera Omaha, Omaha

2005: The issue of scale is one thing you cannot avoid . . .  Salt Lake Art Center     

2004: Jun Kaneko, Rochester Art Center, Rochester MN                                  

2003: Jun Kaneko, Daum Museum of Contemporary Art, Sedalia MO; Jun Kaneko, Oslo Museum of Applied Art, Oslo, Norway; Jun Kaneko, Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, NE

2002: Jun Kaneko, Holter Museum, Helena MT; Jun Kaneko, Kalamazoo Institute of Art, Kalamazoo, MI; Jun Kaneko, Nicolaysen Art Museum, Casper WY; Jun Kaneko,  San Francisco State University, San Francisco

 2001: Jun Kaneko, Tyler Museum of Art, Tyler TX ; Jun Kaneko, University of Wyoming Art Museum, Laramie, WY; Tropical Energy, Honolulu Academy of Arts, Honolulu

2000: Jun Kaneko, Durango Arts Center, Durango CO  

1999: Jun Kaneko, Northern Clay Center, Minneapolis MN; Jun Kaneko, The Art Center in Hargate, St. Paul's School, Concord NH

1998: Jun Kaneko, Lewis and Clark College, Gallery of Contemporary Art 

1997: Jun Kaneko, Academy of Art, Leuren, Belgium            

1996: Jun Kaneko, Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem, The Netherlands                    

Selected Group Shows

2006: A Ceramic Legacy - Selections from the Stephane Janssen and R. Michael Johns Collection, Arizona State University Museum, Tempe AZ

2005: Grand Opening, Bentley Projects, Phoenix AZ:  Japan/USA:  A Cross Cultural     Exchange, Santa Fe Clay, Santa Fe NM

2004: Inaugural Exhibition, Bentley Projects, Scottsdale AZ; Studio Glass International,   Concordia University, Seward NE; The Secret History of Clay, Tate, Liverpool, United Kingdom; All Fired Up: A Contemporary Ceramics Experience, Reed Whipple Cultural Center, Las Vegas NV                            

2003: 100 Treasures of Cranbrook Art Museum, Cranbrook Art Museum, Detroit MI
Clay, The Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, Atlanta GA; Concentus
of Decorative Arts, Oslo NorwayShared Passion: Sara and David    Lieberman Collection, ASU Art Museum, Tempe AZ

2002: Coming of Age, Mint Museum of Craft and Design, Charlotte NC; Contemporary American Ceramics 1950-1990, Aichi Ceramic Museum, Nagoya, National Museum     Modern Art in Kyoto, Tochigi Ceramic Museum in Tochigi, Japan; Poetics of Clay: An  International Perspective, Philadelphia Art Alliance, Philadelphia PA touring to the Museum of Art and Design/Taideteollisuusmuseo, Helsinki, Finland; Sculptural Clay
Invitational, Daum Museum of Contemporary Art, Sedalia MO; Setagaya Museum in Tokyo, Japan        

2001: World Ceramic Exposition 2001 Korea, Seoul, South Korea             

2000: Color and Fire, L.A. County Museum, Los Angeles CA; Contemporary Clay:
Master Teachers/Master Students, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green OH;
Everson Ceramic National, Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse NY   

1999: Biennial Exhibition of Public Art, Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase NY;
Contemporary Clay, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green OH
Rare Earth, Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, Cedar Rapids IA                 

1998: Le Geste et la Couleur, Musée Magnelli, Vallauris, France

1997: Invitational Ceramic Exhibition, University of Wisconsin, WhiteWater WI;
Society of Arts and Crafts Centennial, Clay Exhibition, Boston MA

1996: Chico State University, Chico CA; 5-person show, South Carellan Art Museum,
Lappeenranta, Finland                          

1995: 3-person show, Maruei, Nagoya, Japan            

1994: International Contemporary Ceramic Exhibition, Aichi Prefecture Ceramic Museum, Seto, Japan; New Craft Forms, Exhibition for Winter Olympics, Lillehammer, Norway; Revolution in Clay: The Marer Collection of Contemporary Ceramics, Scripps  College, Claremont, CA

1993: Contemporary Ceramics 1950-1990, Aichi Prefecture Museum of Art, Nagoya, Japan


Norman-Wilcox, Gregory, Craftsmen USA '66
Lytton Gallery, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA, 1966
Summer 1982, Ceramic Sculpture Workshop: Ken Little and Jun Kaneko, Omaha Brickworks, Omaha, NE, 1982
Slade, Roy, Artist in Residence 1984, Grand Rapids Art Museum, Grand Rapids, MI, 1984
Deeds, Daphne Anderson, Rhythmic Clay: A View of Jun Kaneko's Process, Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, Lincoln, NE, 1987
Kangas, Matthew, "Jun Kaneko," Leedy Voulkos Gallery, Kansas City, MO, 1989
Kangas, Matthew, Two Modern Masters: Jun Kaneko and William Harper, The Society for Contemporary Craft, Pittsburgh, PA, 1989
Aica Gallery, Aica Eyes, vol. 6, summer 1992
January and February Exhibitions, Bentley Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ, 1995
"Jun Kaneko," EKWC Newsletter, Frans Halsmuseum, 's-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands, 1995
Ceramic Art Center 1999 Fall Schedule, Jun Kaneko, Santa Fe Clay, Santa Fe, NM, 1999
Annual Report, Woods Charitable Fund, Inc., 2003, cover
Art in the Stations, Detroit People Mover, Detroit Transportation Corporation, 2004
2005-06 Season brochure, Opera Omaha, Omaha, NE  

Newspaper Articles:   

"Contemporary Ceramics," Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, CA, February 22, 1968
Graboys, Lois, "East and West: Jun Kaneko's Work Reflects both West Coast 'Funk' and Oriental Order," East Bay Window, Providence, RI, March 26-27, 1975
Crossley, Mimi, "Kaneko's Boxes: Maun's Grand Tour," The Houston Post, Houston, TX, September 25, 1981
Hoffman, Donald, "Ceramics glow with beautifully textured color," The Kansas City Star, September 12, 1982
Colby, Joy Hakauson, "Cranbrook Shows Off - With Class," The Detroit News, Detroit, MI, February 6, 1983
Miro, Marsha, "Exhibit Shows Cranbrook's Study Foundation in Clay," Detroit Free Press, Detroit, MI, March 13, 1983
Colby, Joy Hakauson, "At Cranbrook, A World Class Pair," The Detroit News, Detroit, MI, September 25, 1983
Miro, Marsha, "Two Cultures Merge in His Ceramic Works," Detroit Free Press, Detroit, MI, October 10, 1983
"Art Work for Park," photo, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1984
Muchnic, Suzanne, "2 Unbroken Ceramics Traditions," Los Angeles Times, March 13, 1984
Asahi-Shimbun, Tokyo, Japan, June 6, 1984
Hoffman, Donald, "Jun Kaneko's Expressiveness is Often Equal to the Size of His Ceramics," The Kansas City Star (Art Journal), Kansas City, MO, October 14, 1984
"Jun Kaneko: Paintings, Drawings and Ceramics," Tweed Museum of Art Newsletter, University of Minnesota at Duluth, September-November, 1985

 Sources: Linda Hughes, Jun Kaneko Studio; Frank Lloyd Gallery online

Biography from the Archives of askART
The following is from the New York Times, 1/14/2007 in the Art & Design section:

"Giants of the Heartland" by Michael Kimmelman.  Posted from Pittsburgh, Kansas

FOR the past couple of years Jun Kaneko, the ceramic artist, has been driving every month from his studio in Omaha, five hours south to a sewer-pipe factory here, called Mission Clay.  There, in a pair of beehive kilns from the turn of the last century, he has been making what must be some of the largest ceramic sculptures made, maybe the largest ever made.

They're Easter Island-like heads, the size of baby rhinos. Or they're abstract, in hollow shapes like lozenges or lima beans or dumplings — he calls them "Dangos," which is Japanese for dumplings. Or, in one case, a little like a ship's billowing sail, each one weighing thousands of pounds and rising up to 13 feet.

The kilns evoke Celtic ruins, like the ones Irish monks lived in 1,000 years ago: circular, nearly 20 feet tall. They have come, some of them over time, to sprout vines and bushes — nature's whiskers — a sight as odd as that of Mr. Kaneko: stringy-haired; muscular; a gentle, 64-year-old, soft-spoken Japanese-born artist in artsy black clothes, who looks a little like a dumpling himself, smack in the middle of prairie country. There, at a muddy old brick factory, he makes art among men in hard hats hauling sewer pipes on forklifts.

One blustery morning in December, while the two of us headed back north from the plant, past endless rolling farmland, he related the following story, more or less apropos of nothing:

In September 1959, when he was 17, the strongest typhoon ever to hit Japan struck Nagoya, where his family lived. It was the middle of the night, and thousands of people, caught in their sleep, died within minutes.

"Did you ever hear of a tatami mat?" he asked. "Well, they float."

I needed a second to grasp the point. The water rose so quickly that people sleeping on the mats found themselves crushed against their own ceilings and drowned. Below sea level, the Kanekos' neighborhood consisted mostly of old wood houses, which collapsed, but the Kanekos' modest house happened to be concrete, and the family was able to scramble to a small room on the second floor before the water overtook the first one. "There were fish swimming in the living room," Mr. Kaneko remembered.

The water rose to just below the second-floor windowsill. "And for some reason I decided to stick my hand out the window, into the water," he continued. "Suddenly — it was pitch black so I couldn't see anything — somebody grabbed my hand."

He pulled. His father, finding a body dragged inside, rushed to the window, stuck his own hand out, and another drowning body latched onto him. "We kept sticking out our hands and pulling them in," Mr. Kaneko said. Altogether they fished 36 strangers from death, later fashioning a raft from debris to go get supplies, and eventually boarding everyone in the house for two months.

He paused. "Maybe that helped me come to the United States, because after that I wasn't afraid of too much." But of course he didn't just come to the United States. He ended up in the wide-open middle of the Midwest, as far away from the ocean as possible.

A few days earlier, on a clear blue afternoon, Mr. Kaneko; his wife, Ree Schonlau; and I crunched through broken wood and glass in the huge light-flooded upper floor of a defunct Plymouth dealership with magnificent wraparound views of downtown Omaha. Ms. Schonlau, a cheerful Pied Piper with a mop of hair and a habit of calling everyone "dear," founded the nonprofit Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts here around 25 years ago. Since then it has helped revive downtown and made her a local hero.

Mr. Kaneko and she are classic opposites, introvert and extrovert. Bemis first brought Mr. Kaneko to work at the Omaha Brickworks in the early '80s. Recently they bought this dealership as storage for his art, which they've been accumulating. There are now plans for a nonprofit center for creative studies, called Kaneko, which will house 2,000 of his sculptures along with works by other artists. They also have bought a former heating and cooling supplier's warehouse across the street from the dealership. That makes seven big buildings around town that they own, including his studio.

I asked how much room this adds up to, and they needed to stop and calculate.

"About 165,000 square feet," Ms. Schonlau said.

That's 12 times the size of the Metropolitan Museum's Great Hall, or 6 times as large as all the galleries at the Whitney. Space is clearly another reason Mr. Kaneko settled in Omaha, not Manhattan or San Francisco.

A rare sixth-generation Japanese Christian, descended from missionaries with samurai roots (the combination is another rarity), he moved from Nagoya to Los Angeles to study painting in 1963, with little money, few contacts and barely a word of English. It took him hours to decipher the labels in the supermarket.

Now — it's a good example of how art careers flourish outside New York — he has a dozen dealers around the country, pressing him for new work. Between gallery shows (he is committed to six different ones every year), museum exhibitions (on average three, he says) and public commissions (for convention centers, airports, subway stations), he keeps four full-time assistants busy. Ms. Schonlau and her two daughters help oversee the finances, which have become formidable. Mr. Kaneko says he pays no attention to that side of things. The sculptures he's making in Pittsburg, which will cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars, have no prospective buyer.

By the time he arrived in California in the early '60s, a revolution in ceramics had already begun. Inspired by the Abstract Expressionists, artists like Peter Voulkos, Kenneth Price, Billy Al Bengston, Henry Takemoto, Jerry Rothman and Paul Soldner were making complex sculptures, rejecting traditional ceramic craft and function, pushing toward abstraction and a new ambition of scale.

Using the Omaha Brickworks' beehive kilns in the '80s Mr. Kaneko began making his first "Dangos": hollow-cast sculptures, then up to eight feet high, shaped into soft triangles standing on point or lumpy mounds, gaily glazed with stripes, spirals or dots. Through trial and error, he developed his own techniques for glazes, a subtle variety of colors that kept painting, his first love, integral to his sculptures. By the early '90s, at the invitation of Bryan Vansell, the manager of Mission Clay, he was experimenting with 11-foot-tall Dangos at the company's site in Fremont, Calif.

For Mission Clay this represented an enlightened way to use idle kilns. For Mr. Kaneko it represented a three-year immersion. He brought along three assistants from Omaha, set up a tent village at the factory with showers and he even hired a cook.

The first huge Dangos developed cracks: months of work down the drain. Then things got worse. A virus left Mr. Kaneko unable to walk without tumbling over. Half his face was palsied, and he became so sensitive to sound that he couldn't bear to hear a door close. To glaze the sculptures he taped the palsied eyelid open, so that he could keep his depth perception, and clung on to a tall ladder for dear life.

But, as he said, there was danger and there was danger.

We toured the studio, which occupies a former industrial building at the Old Market. In a drying room two giant heads nestled under a wood and plastic canopy, like lovers at a wedding altar. Bunches of fired pink, white and gray Dangos, not yet glazed, lined the walls, incubating like the creatures in "Aliens." Immaculate shelves for colored glazes rose before neatly stacked bags of clay, dozens of them. Mr. Kaneko said there were 200 more tons of clay in a building across the street. Upstairs a painting studio the size of a hockey rink had a suite of half-finished striped paintings on the walls, intended for a convention center.

"I like the idea of ambient space, the challenge of it," he said. "People going through a plaza or a convention center may not be conscious of my pieces and may not be interested in art, — but in the end they are experiencing it. And each public project has its own needs, its own 'ma,' " he said, ma meaning "spirit," a Shinto idea, which applies, he said, also to the spaces around, and in between, the sculptures.

THE drive to Pittsburg was through rain and mist, along slumbering fields. Mr. Kaneko said he enjoys the solitude and never turns on the radio. We gradually fell into conversation about his collaboration with Mission Clay. "The common denominator is our work ethic," he said. "There was a lot of suspicion that an artist is somebody who cuts off his ear and attacks the secretary, but then they realized that we have the same interests. A lot of my work involves planning, strategy, management. With ceramics you have to be prepared because after a piece is fired, it's too late to change."

This led him to talk about industrial ceramics, the Space Shuttle, the temperature at which sewer pipes are fired in a kiln and the delicacy of glazes. I stared at flocks of Canada goose gliding over barren trees and past tiny patches of snow clinging to the sides of creeks and to the shoulder of the highway. After several hours we pulled into downtown Fort Scott ("Birthplace of Gordon Parks" the road sign advertises), a hillside grid of cement and brick buildings partly duded up as an Old West town, where we settled into plates of greasy enchiladas at a Mexican restaurant under a riot of paper flags and Christmas wreaths.

I mentioned that back in his studio Mr. Kaneko had caressed a couple of the striped, half-finished heads as if he were petting them. Smooth and rounded with flat, impassive features, or sometimes without any features at all, his heads have become an obsession over the last decade. "I made 10 of them, which sat in the studio where I looked at them for about five years. Then I started to pair them because the pairs created conversations."

How does he decide which get stripes or dots? "I don't know how it happens, but over the months they will speak to me: 'I want a polka dot.' Or whatever." The critic Arthur Danto has compared the results to colorful kimonos on sumo wrestlers: joyful patterns lightening hulking forms.

We reached the plant, past several forlorn malls, and hopped through a muddy parking lot where wood palettes were stacked with huge ceramic pipes. Inside, the place was quiet, dark and mostly empty. Numbered pairs of barnlike doors designated different drying rooms, the first of which was Mr. Kaneko's. Dozens of his Dangos, bisque-fired, huddled like dinosaur eggs. Some were cracked; he said he was hoping to salvage these by incorporating the cracks as decorative elements, an approach he related to the Zen concept of Sabi, the embracing of flaws.

Wandering through the plant I unlatched a pair of double doors to a different drying room and was stopped short. In the dim light was a Greek temple: rows of standing sewer pipes, 13 feet high, each nearly 4 feet wide, belled at the top like Doric columns, stretching toward infinity.

Down a long corridor opening to the outdoors, the rounded kilns sat in rows like eggs in an egg carton: a village of beehive huts. In the first of them Mr. Kaneko and his assistants had shoehorned several 13-foot-high Dangos, closely packed together. In the second kiln immense heads, wrapped in plastic, faced off nose to nose.

I heard what sounded like church bells. Outside, several plant workers were unloading another kiln, checking for cracks in sewer pipes by gently tapping them with hammers. Their clanks mixed with the hum of engines and with a few passing train whistles.

Tom Harter, the plant manager, happened by. A rangy, bespectacled man with a hangdog expression, he told me about the factory (which he said had fallen on hard times in the '70 s, when plastic temporarily displaced ceramic) and about his regard for Mr. Kaneko. "A lot of people have concepts and creativity, but to combine them with management ability is exceptional," he said.

Back in the drying room, with a Japanese brush in hand, Mr. Kaneko was dragging over a ladder to begin glazing the surface of a nine-foot Dango, top to bottom. The process was hypnotic, the room silent and still save for the slight buzz of a heater. Gradually the sculpture gained a velvety, matte coat.

That evening in the plain, furnished cottage he rents for himself and his assistants (shag carpeting, overhead lights, ceiling fans), he made baked catfish in parchment, with pasta and asparagus. It seemed about the most ambitious dinner somebody could devise with ingredients from the local Wal-Mart.

The cottage was intimate, warmed by food and conversation, far away from the big empty spaces he keeps populating with his brightly colored sculptures, as if he felt compelled to fill a void. "Scale has its own power," he said. "An unsuccessful big piece can still cause people to say, 'Wow!' And although that's the last thing I want, just to make people say 'Wow,' I do expect you to look at big things differently. Small pieces you can turn around in your hand, you can look down at. Big pieces you have to look up at. It's the difference between looking at a flower or up at a tall tree or at a mountain."

He thought for a moment: "I like pieces that I have to look up to."

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Circa September, 2008

About  Jun Kaneko

Born:  1942 - Nagaya, Japan
Known for:  ceramic ovoid monolith-dangos