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Art Deco

Art Deco was a decorative and architectural style of the 1920s and 1930s which replaced the sinuous curves of its Art Nouveau predecessor with geometric lines and patterns. It has often been dubbed 'modernism for the masses'.

Categories: decorative arts

Era: 1920s - 1930s

Contemporary developments: flapper girls - futurism - jazz age - machine age - modernism - streamline - constructivism

Influences on Art Deco: Russian ballet - Aztec pyramids - Egyptian revival style - Arts & Crafts movement - Bauhaus style - Vienna Secession - Constructivism - Cubism

Artists: Tamara de Lempicka

Connoisseurs: Bevis Hillier

By medium: Art Deco cinema - Art Deco illustration - Art Deco fashion

Art Deco films: Aelita (1924) - Metropolis (1927) - The Black Cat (1934) - Things to Come (1936) - more on Art Deco films

Art Deco was the style in design and architecture that marked the 1920s and 1930s. Starting in Europe, it spread to America towards the end of the 1920s, where one of the most remarkable buildings featuring this style was constructed as the tallest building of the time: the Chrysler Building. The forms of art deco were pure and geometric, even though the artists often drew inspiration from nature. In the beginning lines were curved, but later on rectangular designs became more and more popular.

Before the 1960s Art Deco was simply known as ‘moderne,’ or ‘modern’.

Poster for the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (1925)

Pan Pacific Auditorium (1935) - Becket Wurdeman

SS Normandie (1935) - Cassandre

see also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolphe_Muron_Cassandre [Feb 2005]


A decorative and architectural style of the period 1925–1940, characterized by geometric designs, bold colors, and the use of plastic and glass. --AHD

The term was first attested in English in 1966 (Etymology online) and popularized by Bevis Hillier in the late sixties.

Art Deco was a movement in decorative arts that also affected architecture , deriving its name from the World's fair held in Paris in 1925, the Exposition Internationale de Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne. It was a major style in Europe from the early 1920s but did not catch on in the U.S. until about 1928, when it quickly modulated into the Moderne during the 1930s, the decade with which the concept of Art Deco is most strongly associated today. The term Art Deco was coined during the Exposition of 1925 but did not receive wider usage until it was re-evaluated in the 1960s. Its practitioners were not working as a coherent community. It is considered to be eclectic, being influenced by a variety of sources, to name a few:

Corresponding to these influences, the Art Deco is characterised by use of materials such as sharkskin and zebraskin, zigzag and stepped forms, bold and sweeping curves (unlike the sinuous curves of the Art nouveau), chevron patterns, sunburst motif, etc. Some of these motifs were ubiquitous- for example the sunburst motif was used in such varied contexts as a lady's shoe, a radiator grille, the spire of the Chrysler Building. Art Deco was an opulent style and this opulence is attributed as a reaction to the forced austerity during the years of World War I. Art Deco was a popular style for interiors of cinema theatres and ocean liners such as the SS Normandie.

A parallel movement following close behind, the Streamline or Streamline Moderne, was influenced by manufacturing and streamlining techniques arising from science and mass production- shape of bullet, liners, etc., where aerodynamics are involved. Once the Chrysler Air-Flo design of 1933 (date) was successful, "streamlined" forms began to be used even for objects such as pencil sharpeners and refrigerators. In architecture, this style was characterised by rounded corners, used predominantly for buildings at road junctions.

Some historians see Art Deco as a type of or early form of Modernism

Though Art Deco slowly lost patronage in the West, and was cut short by the austerities of World War II, in colonial countries such as India, it became a gateway for Modernism, and continued to be used well after, even in the nineteen sixties. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_Deco [Aug 2004]


http://www.retropolis.net/, an overview of art deco architecture.

Mass production

The finest Art Deco designs were not generally mass-produced; however, its inherent simplicity made it adaptable to the mass production of less refined objects such as cheap jewellery, tableware, and household items. --http://arthistory1.school.dk/frame_ArtDeco.htm

Art deco: the art of selling

Art Deco was above all the art of selling. The original Exposition des arts decoratifs in Paris in 1925 was an attempt by the French to dominate the luxury goods market. That ambition came unstuck with the Wall Street Crash, but a cheaper, more affordable consumerism drove Art Deco in America and explains why it was so closely associated in Britain with cinemas, Lyons tea houses, the seaside and factories making cheap consumer goods. [...]

Art Deco is sometimes presented along with Hollywood as opiate for the masses, a way of keeping them quiet with consumerism, dreams of the exotic for those whose lives were distinctly humdrum. But it has a more sinister side. --Giles Worsley, http://www.telegraph.co.uk

The style of hedonism

Art Deco was the style of hedonism, of indulgence, of luxury, of decadence and of massconsumption .

Further reading

  1. In the Deco Style (1987) Dan Klein [Amazon.com]
    This fascinating book surveys the style known as Art Deco and assesses its development, its relationship to other artistic styles and to societal changes, and its popularization through mass production. The authors discuss all the major designers and many minor ones as well. All artistic fields involved in the deco style are discussed: architecture, interior design, advertising, furniture, ceramics, jewelry, and, of course, industrial design. They provide a fairly evenhanded coverage of the impact and manifestations of deco in the United States, England, and Europe. Particularly interesting is their appraisal of the deco revival which began in the 1960s. This beautifully designed book with hundreds of illustrations is highly recommended.

  2. Art Deco Style (1997) - Bevis Hillier [Amazon.com]
    If one had to select a single title from the recent spate of books discussing the Art Deco style, it should be this crisply written, magnificently illustrated volume. Indeed, Hillier is no stranger to Art Deco scholarship (Art Deco of the 20s and 30s, 1985), and his lively discussion of the turbulent era of the Twenties and Thirties quickly sweeps one back in time to a style that became easily identifiable and was adopted to one degree or another by all of the mechanical and fine arts. The illustrations, mostly in color, are beautifully reproduced. Art students in particular will benefit from this attention to detail. The volume concludes with a notes section, brief biographies of notable artists and designers, and a useful bibliography. Highly recommended for all audiences. Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. , amazon.com

  3. Art Deco: 1910-1939 () - Charlotte Benton [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

    Sexy, modern, and unabashedly consumer-oriented, Art Deco was a new kind of style, flourishing at a time of rapid technological change and social upheaval. Lacking the philosophical basis of other European design movements, Deco borrowed motifs from numerous sources--Japan, Africa, ancient Egyptian and Mayan cultures, avant-garde European art--simply to create novel visual effects. Art Deco 1910-1939 surveys the sources and development of the popular style with more than 400 color illustrations and 40 chapters by numerous design specialists. The authors track Deco around the globe, from Paris to the United States—-where it got its biggest boost from mass production—-to Northern and Central Europe, Latin America, Japan, India, and New Zealand. The book's broad focus encompasses industrial artifacts (the Hindenburg blimp, the Burlington Zephyr locomotive), as well as architecture, furniture, accessories, fashion, jewelry, typography and poster design. Despite the existence of other prominent artistic movements during the 1920s and '30s, the authors tend to hang the Deco label on virtually any object that portrays the effects of technology or employs color, luxury materials or artificial light in striking ways. It does seem a stretch to include Man Ray's photographs, Sonia Delaunay's textiles and the movie King Kong in the Deco pantheon. But the great strength of Art Deco 1910-1939 is that it reveals the social context of Deco, not just its pretty face. The book accompanies an exhibition (organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London) at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto through January 4, 2004; subsequent venues are San Francisco and Boston. —Cathy Curtis, amazon.com

    Art Deco swept across the globe during the 1920s and 1930s and created the defining look of the interwar years. In an era of contradictions that encompassed both the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression, it imbued everyday life with elegance and sophistication. It transformed the skylines of cities as diverse as New York and Shanghai and touched the design of everything from Hollywood films to clothing to luxury liners and locomotives. Art Deco was the style of hedonism, of indulgence, and of mass consumption. ART DECO 1910-1939 is the most wide-ranging survey of what created such an utterly distinctive iconography. Nearly 40 essays from leading experts in the field discuss the Art Deco phenomenon--its sources, its varied forms of expression, and the way it refined and redefined itself as it spread throughout the world. With breathtaking illustrations and essays both thought-provoking and scholarly, it will stand as the definitive book on what was, arguably, the most popular style of the 20th century. --amazon.com

Eileen Gray : Architect/Designer (2000) - Peter Adam

Eileen Gray : Architect/Designer (2000) - Peter Adam [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Eileen Gray (1878-1976) was one of the most innovative architect/designers of the 20th century. Her pioneering tables, mirrors, lamps, and lacquer screens have become modern classics, coveted by museums and collectors, and some of the designs are still reproduced today. First published in 1987 and hailed as a "splendid book, gripping and unpretentious" (Arts Review), this "informative and affectionate" portrait (New York Times) by documentary filmmaker and author Peter Adam, a longstanding friend, is the first full-scale biography of this remarkable woman.

Adam draws upon his exclusive access to Gray's personal archives as he re-creates her life and architectural projects. Two houses she designed in the South of France are now considered architectural landmarks of the 20th century. In addition to more than 300 photographs, designs, and architectural plans, the new edition of the book provides a revised catalogue raisonn of Gray's furniture, architecture, and drawings-an indispensable reference source for collectors and students of one of the leaders of 20th-century design.

PETER ADAM is a prize-winning documentary filmmaker and writer. He is the author of Abrams' Art of the Third Reich and has written books on David Hockney, Alfred Eisenstaedt, and Andr Kertesz. He lives in London and the South of France.

Eileen Gray (August 9, 1878 – October 31, 1976) was an Irish lacquer artist, furniture designer, and architect now well-known for incorporating luxurious lacquer work into the stark International Style aesthetic. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eileen Gray [Feb 2006]

See also: Art Deco - Modernism - architecture - modern architecture - design

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