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Dream team

The Sculptural Designs of Brothers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec Are Showcased at MOCA at the Pacific Design Center

June 27, 2004|KT Harris | KT Harris last wrote for the magazine about artist Caz Love's pink Culver City home.

Designers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec have been heralded as the most exhilarating French exports since Philippe Starck. But for Michael Darling, assistant curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, the brothers are more closely akin to modernist designers Jean Prouve and Charlotte Perriand, known for their subtlety, and Charles and Ray Eames, known for their originality. "Unlike many contemporary star designers, they aren't stuck in a stylistic rut," says Darling, who is overseeing the Bouroullecs' first North American museum show, which opens today and runs through Oct. 18 at MOCA at the Pacific Design Center.

The exhibition "Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec" documents many of the furniture, product and interior designs that have brought the pair international acclaim, including "Spring Chair" for Cappellini, "Aio" porcelain for Habitat and the "Joyn" office system for Vitra. Ronan, 33, and Erwan, 28, have carved and shaped the gallery space with what they call "micro architecture"--installations that are larger than furniture but smaller than a free-standing "built" environment.

The Bouroullecs grew up in a small Brittany town and moved to Paris for their studies (Ronan, industrial and furniture design; Erwan, art). "It is a rude climate, almost desert-like, a place not full of things," Erwan says of their native coastal home, which may explain the stripped-down simplicity of their work. Today he and Ronan work in a scruffy part of the Parisian suburb St-Denis, which seems more suited to automotive shops than a flourishing design studio.

One of their earliest designs that appears in the MOCA show, "Lit Clos," or "Enclosed Bed," raised eyebrows for its unconventionality at the 2000 Milan Furniture Fair. Sitting atop stilts, the updated "treehouse"--with gossamer-thin walls, ceiling and ladder--is a pragmatic response to limited space. The Bouroullecs have described the design, which is made of painted birch, steel, aluminum and an acrylic resin called Altuglas, as a "box that's sufficiently closed to accommodate a bed and the intimacy that it presupposes, and at the same time sufficiently open not to be claustrophobic." It's a piece for do-it-yourself assembly--"simpler than putting a bedroom together."

The "Joyn" office system, also at MOCA, consists of desks that can be configured with blotters, dividing panels, shelves and lamps to designate private or group spaces. It's a clever creation with multiple uses, like the French farmhouse table that inspired it.

"We try to reduce furniture to what it has to be," Erwan says. "Only when you use it does it start to have some meaning." He also suggests that the brothers' designs must be unobtrusive enough "so they can disappear inside a room."

Other innovative Bouroullec designs on display include the "Parasol Lumineux" standing lamp, the gazebo-like "Cabane" and the most daring, "Algues," about which they have made a short film. MOCA's Darling describes "Algues" as "molded plastic pieces that when snapped together en masse become fabric-like surfaces that can contain or divide space, filter light, provide decorative figuration and texture, and lyrically carry color into a room--and these are only the uses we know about so far."

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"Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec," MOCA at the Pacific Design Center, 8687 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood; (310) 657-0800. Open through Oct. 18.

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