Shiro Kuramata, materials sing


The Cappellini brand recently opened up its shop in Milano after undergoing refurbishment. It was covered entirely in yellow proudly representing within it the unique creation of the Japanese post-modern virtuoso and classic of twentieth century design, Shiro Kuramata (1934—1991).

And he is truly deserving of this right now. Last year marked twenty years from his death and these days his dreamy minimalist-playful creations are proving to be a great draw at world auction halls. And it is not by chance that this versatile creator is being presented right now in the Cappellini Showroom. To this day, the Italian brand manufactures several of his unique furniture solitaires. Taken from another angle, it can also be said that the work of this most famous Japanese designer is very topical today. With the current surge of retro, slowly but surely we are in fact witnessing a return to the seventies and lastly eighties which in world architecture and design was dominated by the often highly controversial postmodernism. The most recently appraisal of this is the exhibition of Postmodernism, Style and Subversion 1970—1990 currently running at the Victoria & Albert museum in London, which we strongly recommend visiting. The project offers an appraisal of this period of creative design from several angles simultaneously as well as a variety of media, also in its installation presenting a number of Kuramata’s principle pieces all at once.

I am however not interested in devoting my attention here to the current events which surround Kuramata such as both exhibitions in Milan and London, but rather to use this opportunity to take a look at the designer’s creation generally and to establish precisely what he contributed to the international design scene of his time as well as outside of it. Above all, it stems from his background which was entirely different from that of his European and American counterparts. Kuramata bases his work on the poetry of his own country, traditions but also the powerful industrial and technical advancement which took place in the second half of the last century. This is reflected in Kuramata’s use of modern industrial materials, the form of which, however, the designer recast in subtle designer sculptural work through which he unveiled the hidden visual beauty of materials used and which enchanted all members of the legendary Memphis group as well as many others. This is certainly illustrated in all the most renowned designs such as the wavy chest of drawers, Progetti Compiuti, or the storage systems, Pyramid and Revolving, manufactured by Cappellini. A typical example of his industrial poetics is unquestionably the armchair How High the Moon from the Vitra brand.

Behind his renowned pieces, we, however, also encounter further fascinating designer ideas in the form of single solitaires and entire interiors. An example of this is his table lamp OBA-Q dating back to 1972 which is a play on words reminiscent of a hanker-chief which has been tossed aside. The whole piece is however made of pure plastic. Conversely his Cabinet of Curiosities created in 1989 is a transparent geometric structure consisting of coloured pieces of acrylic. As to the rest, acrylic played a significant role in his later creations at the turn of the eighties and nineties, during which time he poured it into flowers as well as birds feathers. In this way Kuramata created an invisible world cutting through beauty which a number of progressive Japanese designers have taken up today. All we need to mention here are the names of the Nendo or Tokujina Yoshioku studios, whose creations continue in developing the master’s concept with precision. And this brings us straight to the overall significance of his work not just for Japanese design. In short Kuramata created a new system of how to work with materials, how to give them new meanings filled with poetry and games. Unlike the Italians, he gave plastics the incredible characteristic of telling stories and maybe even singing songs. It is impossible to imagine contemporary design without this melody. In part we owe this to Shiro Kuramata. Now all that is left to do is admire the several pieces of his work which we have selected for you in this article.



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