01 May 2019


Obituary Shizuko Yoshikawa


Text: Jörg Stürzebecher

She has influenced constructive-concrete art in her very own way, combining rational concepts of European modern art with the ease of the Japanese Zen tradition and was one of the first Japanese students of the HfG Ulm. On 27 March, Shizuko Yoshikawa passed away.


The late Shizuko Yoshikawa had already studied architecture and product design in Japan by the time she arrived at Ulm School of Design in 1961. Much of Japanese culture was still unknown or misunderstood in Europe, the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 1964 with its introduction of high-speed trains and Kenzo Tangier's knowledge of architecture lay in the future, sushi was unknown in many parts of the continent and the common image of Japan in Germany was dominated by ikebana flower arrangements, bonsai and Madame Butterfly.

Yoshikawa encountered these clichés personally in Swabia; she was stared at on the streets for being an exotic creature. Her teacher Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart, a graphic artist and constructive painter of world renown, caused lasting irritation and resentment when he introduced her to her fellow students as a geisha from Japan; it was meant kindly but had the opposite effect. But fortunately Ulm offered her something else, too. For example, she continued her collaboration with Tomás Maldonado, whom she had already met, like Josef Müller-Brockman, later her husband, in 1960 at the World Design Conference in Tokyo.

She lived in Switzerland from 1963 and worked temporarily with her husband in his studio. But her actual field of work was free art. This is where she made important contributions to the expansion of Concrete Constructivist Art, which had begun to find increasing influence in Switzerland from at least the 1950s, and also to applied design. Her works can be found in important collections of this style and school of thought, such as Zurich’s Haus Konstruktiv and the Museum Ritter in Waldenbuch, as well as in many public spaces ranging from Zurich to Tokyo. A monograph published by Lars Müller in 2018 pays tribute to her life's work, which can be found in areas beyond art. In a variety of ways, Shizuko Yoshikawa also supported research on Swiss graphic art, which is closely linked to her husband, who died in 1996.


Nº 283
The Power of Design

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