Artists & Designers

Shiro Kuramata (1934-1991)

Born in Tokyo in 1934, Kuramata graduated from Tokyo polytechnic high school in 1953, where he studied woodworking before being employed by a furniture company. He subsequently enrolled at the Kuwasawa Design School in Tokyo, where he became familiar with Western concepts of interior design, including chairs and seating furnishings. In 1957 Kuramata was hired by the department store San-Ai as a designer of showcases and, in 1965, opened his own design office in the city.

Combining Japanese aesthetics with echoes of Western popular culture, Kurmata celebrated technology, minimalism, and material pleasure in his work, which often resounded with notes of surrealistic imagery and wry humor. Inspired by designer Ettore Sottsass's own playful spirit and love of bright color, Kuramata joined Sottsass's “Memphis” group, based in Milan, at its founding in 1981. During the 1970s and 80s, Kuramata, alert to the numerous possibilities of new technologies and industrial materials, turned to acrylic, glass, aluminum, and steel mesh to create seemingly light and translucent objects. Uninterested in ergonomics or more practical concerns, Kuramata’s work, like that of his “maestro” Sottsass and their contemporaries, focused instead upon questioning traditional form, material, and use through their increasingly conceptual work.

Kuramata’s work has been included in numerous international exhibitions, including: Tokyo: Form and Spirit (1985, Axis Gallery, Walker Arts Center), Shiro Kuramata (Gallery Gallery, Kyoto, 1987), Japanese Design—A Survey Since 1950 (Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1994), Shiro Kuramata 1934-1991 (Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, 1996), Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990 (Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2011). In addition, he received several awards for his design work, including the 1972 Mainichi Industrial Design Award, the Japan Cultural Design Award (1981), and the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (1990). In 1988, Shiro Kuramata moved to Paris, where he set up a design practice on the rue Royal.

Adapted from

Kevin Tucker, DMA unpublished material, 2012.