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Shiro Kuramata

Japanese designer, Shiro Kuramata (1934 – 1991), emerged as the leading voice in design and furniture from the post-war era in Japan. The distinction between Fine Art and design work was almost not existent in Japan during Kuramata’s development as an artist and as such, his work shows a versatility and awareness of Fine Art practice. With his innovative practice and work that carries characteristic detail, Kuramata’s design speaks to the context in which he was working and his ability to transcend boundaries with interesting materials. Kuramata’s name is often mentioned along with the other greats of his time from Akira Kurosawa to Issey Miyake and Tadao Ando, each of whom have proved revolutionary in their own fields and important in bringing Japanese creative work to the forefront.

The upbringing and early education of Shiro Kuramata was situated within the world of science and technology, as his father was the administrator and later, vice-director of a scientific institute in Tokyo. Kuramata received training in traditional woodcraft at the local polytechnic high school before working in a furniture factory in 1953. In 1956, Kuramata pursued his passion for design at the Kuwasawa Design School in Tokyo, where he was exposed to international design concepts. Throughout Kuramata’s working life, the materials he chose to use became integral to his signature aesthetic. He was able to utilize different products to create each work into the materialization of his unique concepts, from embodying light, to immortalizing flowers. The working approach displayed by Kuramata seems to be weighted in the historic and traditional practices of ‘matter-centric’ work. After finishing his studies, he worked in department stores, while also working with Vitra, Cappellini and other Japanese-based stores. He was also integral to the design of Issey Miyake’s stores from 1970s until he died in the 1990s. His work has been exhibited around the world and is part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris, MoMA of New York, the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in Toyama.

Shiro Kuramata, Pyramid Shelving Unit, (first designed in 1968)
Transparent acrylic resin, 17 drawers in black acrylic in different dimensions, Cappellini Italy

The Pyramid Shelving Unit by Shiro Kuramata is a unique creation that is typical of his streamlined, minimal style that exemplifies Kuramata’s fascination with drawers. The set is designed such that it can be a feature to any room and is sophisticated and striking. The work is characteristically stripped and transparent, to tie in with Kuramata’s interest with creating radical pieces that show new possibilities of physical form. The transparency of the frame showing each individual drawer shows an interesting interplay between surface, with internal and external parts. The physicality of the piece and its manifestation in space works with an interesting dynamic of sturdiness and transience. This work by Kuramata is a translation of his ideas and fascinations. The piece is a unique creation that embodies Kuramata’s skill and individual creativity.