Shiro Kuramata - Design New York Tuesday, June 7, 2022 | Phillips

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  • Shiro Kuramata’s Miss Blanche chair

    by Nick Haramis

    "My strongest desire is to be free of gravity…I want to float."—Shiro Kurmata 

    In his New Yorker review of the original 1947 Broadway staging of A Streetcar Named Desire, Wolcott Gibbs wrote about a “disturbing play, almost faultless in the physical details of its production.” He was describing, of course, the now‐canonical unraveling of Blanche DuBois, by birth a Southern Belle, now a wilting flower of a woman, who arrives on her sister’s doorstep in a rough section of New Orleans clutching pearls she can no longer afford. But Gibbs could just as accurately have been referring to Shiro Kuramata’s Miss Blanche chair, which the Japanese designer was inspired to make in 1988 after watching Elia Kazan’s 1951 film adaptation of the Southern Gothic by Tennessee Williams. Like the playwright’s antiheroine, Kuramata’s Miss Blanche is an uneasy study in the performance of perfection. Supported by four tubular anodized aluminum legs rendered in purple, the seat comprises thick, knife‐sharp transparent acrylic slabs containing floating paper roses (not unlike the ones that decorate Blanche’s dress), which were painstakingly positioned using tweezers into four molds as the liquid acrylic cured.


    Detail of the present lot.


    Blanche, wrote Gibbs, “has manufactured a gaudy… substitute past for herself.” In fact, at one point in the film, even she says about a prospective suitor, “He thinks I’m prim and proper. I want to deceive him enough to make him want me.” Hers is a projection of purity that seems to have resonated with Kuramata, who quit experimenting with natural roses when the hot liquid acrylic, itself a glass substitute, burnt one too many real petals. Kuramata’s assistant at the time, Hisae Igarashi, recalls him saying, “It has to be fake, because Blanche Dubois herself is a fake.” Kuramata’s reverence for artifice, however, is genuine; in the chair’s elegant construction, he has made an expressive object that belies its own materiality: its function as a place to sit is beside the point. Like the story that led to its creation — a tale, according to Gibbs, of “dragging something out into the light” — the chair communicates the beauty of seeing something for what it really is, even when it’s not flattering.


    Archival images showing the fabrication process of the present model chair. 


    In each of his trope-skewering objects, from his white acrylic Ghost lamps to the expanded steel mesh of his How High the Moon armchair, which had neither an interior frame nor support, Kuramata, too, was dragging something out into the light: us. As we interact with his work, we are confronted by the seductive presence of his anti‐gravitational nothingness, or, to paraphrase Milan Kundera, the unbearable, euphoric lightness of being. Kuramata debuted Miss Blanche at a KAGU exhibition during Tokyo Designers’ Week in 1988, and again the following year in a solo show of his work at Galerie Yves Gastou in Paris. While his peers, particularly the Italian designer Ettore Sottsass — a friend and collaborator who invited him to join the Memphis collective at its founding in 1981 — were displaying objects whose volume was largely expressed by surface area, he introduced the world to Miss Blanche, a deceptively airy chair that disappears almost entirely so that just a bed of roses seems capable of holding the weight of a human body. It is not just a miracle of technique, although it is that; it is also a celebration of belief. It is a perfectly suspended dream that we can experience with eyes wide open.


    Shiro Kuramata’s How High the Moon two-seater sofa, designed 1986.


    Miss Blanche was produced as an edition of 56, one for each year of Kuramata’s life. When he died in 1991, at the height of his career, Miss Blanche, his final piece, took on an elegiac aura. Whereas those flowers once captured the tragic beauty of Blanche DuBois, they have since become symbols of their creator. Someone once said that designing death is the greatest proof of life. It’s hard to think about that without remembering Blanche’s final scene in the film. In a rare moment of resignation amid her crescendo of hysteria, she manages to convince a doctor not to confine her to a straitjacket. Just then, an actual smile — maybe the first we’ve seen from her — stretches across her otherwise woebegone face. It’s as if she’s finally been set free by her own disintegration. And in a way, she has.

    • Provenance

      Acquired directly from the artist as a gift

    • Literature

      Matthias Dietz and Michael Mönninger, Japanese Design, Cologne, 1994, front cover, pp. 74-75
      Shiro Kuramata 1934-1991, exh. cat., Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, 1996, pp. 26-27, 39-40, 187, 192
      Ettore Sottsass, "An Exhibition Dedicated to Shiro Kuramata," Domus, no. 788, December 1996, p. 56
      George H. Marcus, Masters of Modern Design: A Critical Assessment, New York, 2005, p. 155
      Jean-Louis Gaillemin, ed., Design Contre Design: Deux siècles de créations, exh. cat., Galerie Nationale du Grand Palais, Paris, 2007, p. 41
      Glenn Adamson and Jane Pavitt, eds., Postmodernism: Style and Subversion, 1970-1990, exh. cat., Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2011, p. 153
      Deyan Sudjic, Shiro Kuramata: Catalogue of Works, London, 2013, p. 362

    • Artist Biography

      Shiro Kuramata

      Japanese • 1934 - 1991

      Shiro Kuramata is widely admired for his ability to free his designs from gravity and use materials in ways that defied convention. After a restless childhood, his ideas of being an illustrator having been discouraged, Kuramata discovered design during his time at the Teikoku Kizai Furniture Factory in Arakawa-ku in 1954. The next year he started formal training at the Department of Interior Design at the Kuwasawa Design Institute. His early work centered on commercial interiors and window displays. In 1965, at the age of 31, he opened his own firm: Kuramata Design Office.

      Throughout his career he found inspiration in many places, including the work of Italian designers (particularly those embodying the Memphis style) and American conceptual artists like Donald Judd, and combined such inspirations with his own ingenuity and creativity. His dynamic use of materials, particularly those that were transparent, combination of surfaces and awareness of the potential of light in design led him to create objects that stretched structural boundaries and were also visually captivating. These qualities are embodied in his famous Glass Chair (1976).

      View More Works

Property from an Important American Collection


"Miss Blanche" chair

designed 1988, executed before 1991
Acrylic resin, synthetic roses, anodized aluminum.
34 3/8 x 24 3/8 x 23 in. (87.3 x 61.9 x 58.4 cm)
Manufactured by Ishimaru Co., Tokyo, Japan. From the edition of 56.

Full Cataloguing

$250,000 - 350,000 

Sold for $516,600

Contact Specialist

Benjamin Green
Associate Specialist

Associate Head of Sale

[email protected]
+1 917 207 9090


New York Auction 7 June 2022