Design retrospectives within the halls of major museums can be hit or miss. Sometimes the hallowed objects—furniture, textiles, et al—seem right at home in the institutional art setting. Sometimes they simply feel lonely and out of context; it can be hard to care about a chair, say, when it is sitting there naked and untouchable against a plain wall. Bivouac, the remarkable mid-career survey of the French brothers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, at the Museum of Contemporary Art now through January 20, 2013, cleverly skirts the contextual problem by exhibiting much of the furniture in this large gallery (above) surrounded by the brothers’ in-progress sketches. The 200-plus drawings show how the Bouroullecs puzzle through form and function—each in his own unique way—and how they even take a break (hey, designers are just like us!) to doodle now and then. In the end, the final creations, which are marriages of high-tech manufacturing and inspired functional design, don’t feel so out of place when they’re surrounded by images of all the things they could have been.
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