Monday, January 14, 2013

Book Review: Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec

Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec: Bivouac
Centre Pompidou-Metz, 2012
Hardcover, 46 pages + color plates

My visit to Chicago last month was timed fortunately with two architecture and design-related exhibitions: Building: Inside Studio Gang Architects at the Art Institute of Chicago (until February 24), and Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec: Bivouac at the Museum of Contemporary Art (until January 20). Not surprisingly each exhibition is accompanied by a catalog, the former previously reviewed and the latter reviewed here, although I already did a tour of Bivouac at Houzz.

The catalog for Bivouac (the term is a sort of temporary, improvised shelter) is published by the Cente Pompidou-Metz, which is where the exhibition started, in October 2011. What this means for the book is that the numerous color photographs of the exhibition were taken in the large gallery spaces of the Shigeru Ban-designed building, not the barrel-vaulted galleries in the late Josef Paul Kleihues's MCA. This is not surprising and does not really detract from the book, but it should be noted that the large designs of the Bouroullec brothers have a strong presence in the MCA's fourth floor galleries, such that their Twigs, for example, bisect one of the narrow, skylit spaces. This just points to the importance of seeing the exhibition in person, be it at the MCA in its last week, or wherever it may travel to next. The Bouroullec's designs—what are appropriately called "microarchitecture"—are undeniably transformative, most immediately in terms of scale and color.

The catalog is divided into three parts: the first and last third of the book are full-bleed, heavyweight pages with color photos of the Bivouac exhibition; these bookend lightweight pages with duotone images of the designs in the exhibition and essays (in French and English) by Andrea Branzi, Alice Rawsthorn, and others. It is a slim volume that is handsomely photographed and assembled—there is something about the contrast between the heavy and light pages, the color and duotone images, even the smell of the paper that makes it a nice object to hold. Most valuable for fans of the Bouroullecs (and if you're not one, you should really check out their work) is the illustrated list of exhibited works in the middle of the catalog. The essays may be hit or miss (Valérie Mréjen's illustrated piece on "Objecthood" is a treat, but Éric Troncy's academic prose is a chore), but the photos and list of works accurately convey the amazing output and design sense of brothers Ronan and Erwan.

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