At the recent Art of Dining Exhibition sponsored by Refugees International-Japan, Masayuki Kurokawa and his wife, Taki Katoh, cooperated in presenting a table setting profoundly and strikingly simple. It symbolized, they said, “the harmonization of natural and man-made phenomena.”
Instead of a conventional tablecloth on which to display their setting, they chose a square of lawn. On it they scattered a few colored leaves, and spread red lacquer tableware designed and made by Kurokawa, and a silver sake set.
At the time Katoh remarked that she the realist and her husband the artist complemented each other. Together on that occasion they gave time and creativity toward helping alleviate the plight of refugees in the world.
Kurokawa would seem to have had every advantage from the beginning in his artistic development. His father and many relatives were architects. His mother, typically a housewife, played the guitar and the mandolin at home.
The family lived in a traditional house in the countryside outside Nagoya. “As a child I was always playing in a little stream — it seemed like a big river to me,” Kurokawa said. “I was always fishing and swimming. I was really brought up surrounded by nature. That fashioned my personality and gave me my motivation.”
He loved making things, he says. He made his own toys. He watched his father, who was always drawing and painting, especially ink illustrations to accompany haiku. “My father built a monument to haiku poets that he donated to our local shrine. He contributed a lot to our area over about 30 years,” Kurokawa said. “My mother died rather young, and my father remarried. His second wife brought the tea ceremony into our home.”
Kurokawa graduated from the department of architecture at the Nagoya Institute of Technology. He completed his master’s and doctoral courses at Waseda University’s Graduate School of Architecture. In 1967 he established his company, Masayuki Kurokawa Architect and Associates, Inc.
The following year he began winning prizes, taking first place in a competition that called for tension structure plans for a floating harbor. Since then he lists eight major prizes and awards that he has received.
For Kurokawa, “everything is architecture, from pushpins to buildings,” he said. He gave major exhibitions on this theme in New York and San Francisco. Other exhibitions of his have built on the same theme. The shows have covered illuminated bathtubs, faucets, watches, stationery, outdoor lamps and doorknobs. He has shown his original knockdown furniture, bookshelves and writing bureaus, and jewelry.
A few years back he surveyed slim-type gas cooking stoves, and followed that show with one of mutant materials in contemporary design in a metal wave series. Several of his products are displayed in the permanent design collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and in the Denver Art Museum.
“Just to live is architecture,” Kurokawa emphasized. “Everything to me is art, and a form of design and architecture.”
His strictly architectural major works include private and public buildings. His ideas have found form in traditional Japanese tea ceremony houses, government pavilions, modern factories, hotels, clubhouses and towers. An early publication of his projected the multifaceted nature of his architecture. A title that came out last year expounds his theory of “objects based on desymmetrical aesthetics.”
Kurokawa is professor at Nihon University Graduate School of Art. With success and fame, he remains a gentle, imaginative, hard-working person. Both his brothers are architects, the elder one having achieved a name known around the world. The younger one runs their father’s original office in Nagoya. Kurokawa’s son, who lives in Madagascar, is an architect.
Katoh describes her husband as being a deep-thinking and humorous person. “He resembles my father, perhaps because they both grew up in the countryside. I grew up in the city, so there too we complement each other,” she said.
She is a prominent person who, despite running her own high-profile business, helps her husband in handling the overseas marketing of his goods.
She added, “For the sake of our 10-year-old son, we three travel together as often as we can to enjoy the countryside. We have parental responsibility to show him as much as we can. After that he will be on his own.”