derived in part from Wikipedia
The Art Deco spire of the Chrysler Building in New York, built 1928–1930.
Art Deco is an eclectic artistic and design style which had its origins in Paris in the first decades of the 20th century. The style originated in the 1920s and continued to be employed until after World War II. The term “art deco” first saw wide use after an exhibition in 1966, referring to the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes that was the culmination of high-end style moderne in Paris. Art Deco affected all areas of design throughout the 1920s and 1930s, including architecture and industrial design, as well as the visual arts such as painting, the graphic arts and film. At the time, this style was seen as elegant, glamorous, functional and modern.
Art Deco moved away from the soft pastels and organic forms of Art Nouveau and embraced influences from many different styles and movements of the early 20th century, including Neoclassical, Constructivism, Cubism, Modernism, and Futurism. Its popularity peaked in Europe during the Roaring Twenties and continued strongly in the United States through the 1930s. Although many design movements have political or philosophical roots or intentions, Art Deco was purely decorative.
Art Deco experienced a decline in popularity during the late 1930s and early 1940s, but experienced a resurgence in the 1960s with the first book on the subject “Art Deco of the 20s and 30s” by Bevis Hillier in 1968 to coincide with the Minneapolis exhibition and continued with the popularization of graphic design in the 1980s. Art Deco had a profound influence on many later artistic movements, such as Memphis and Pop art.
Surviving examples may still be seen in many different locations worldwide, in countries as diverse as China (Shanghai), United Kingdom, Spain, Cuba, Indonesia, the Philippines, Argentina, Romania, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, India, Brazil, Colombia, and the United States (primarily in Miami Beach, Los Angeles, and New York City). Many classic examples still exist in the form of architecture in many major cities. The Empire State Building and Chrysler Building, both in New York City, are two of the largest and best-known examples of the style.
After the Universal Exposition of 1900, various French artists formed an informal collective known as La Société des artistes décorateurs (the society of the decorator artists). Founders included Hector Guimard, Eugène Grasset, Raoul Lachenal, Paul Bellot, Maurice Dufrêne, and Emile Decoeur. These artists heavily influenced the principles of Art Deco as a whole.
This society’s purpose was to demonstrate internationally the leading position and evolution of the French decorative arts. They organized the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Art) in Paris, which would feature French art and business interests. The terms style moderne and art deco both derive from the exposition’s title, though art deco was not widely used until popularized by art historian Bevis Collier’s 1968 book.
In the summer of 1969, Hillier conceived organizing an exhibition called Art Deco at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, which took place from July to September 1971. After this event, interest in Art Deco peaked with the publication of his 1971 book “The World of Art Deco”, a record of the exhibition.
Sources and influences
The structure of Art Deco is based on mathematical geometric shapes. It was widely considered to be an eclectic form of elegant and stylish modernism, being influenced by a variety of sources. The ability to travel and excavations during this time influenced artists and designers, integrating several elements from countries not their own. Among them were the arts of Africa, as well as historical styles such as Greco-Roman Classicism, and the art of Babylon, Assyria, Ancient Egypt, and Aztec Mexico.
Much of this could be attributed to the popular interest in archeology in the 1920s (e.g., the tomb of Tutankhamun, Pompeii, the lost city of Troy, etc.). Art Deco also drew on Machine Age and streamline technologies such as modern aviation, electric lighting, the radio, the ocean liner and the skyscraper for inspiration. Streamline Moderne was the final interwar-period development, which most thoroughly manifests technology and has been rated by some commentators as a separate architectural style.
Terracotta sunburst design in gold behind sky blue and deep blue above the front doors of the Eastern Columbia Building in Los Angeles
Art-deco design influences were expressed in the crystalline and faceted forms of decorative Cubism and Futurism. Other popular themes in Art Deco were trapezoidal, zigzagged, geometric, and jumbled shapes, which can be seen in many early pieces. Two great examples of these themes and styles are in Detroit, Michigan: the Fisher Building and the Guardian Building.
Art Deco was an opulent style, and its lavishness is attributed to reaction to the forced austerity imposed by World War I. Its rich, festive character fitted it for modern contexts, including the Golden Gate Bridge, interiors of cinema theaters (a prime example being the Paramount Theater in Oakland, California) and ocean liners such as the Île de France, Queen Mary, and Normandie. Art Deco was employed extensively throughout the United States’ train stations in the 1930s, designed to reflect the modernity and efficiency of the train. Around the world, a number of amusement parks were constructed in inter-war art-deco architecture, of which surviving examples include Playland (New York) and Luna Park Sydney.
Art Deco made use of many distinctive styles, but one of the most significant of its features was its dependence upon a range of ornaments and motifs. The style is said to have reflected the tensions in the cultural politics of its day, with eclecticism having been one of its defining features. In the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, the distinctive style of Art Deco was shaped by ‘all the nervous energy stored up and expended in the War’. Art Deco has been influenced in part by movements such as Cubism, Russian Constructivism and Italian Futurism, which are all evident in Art Deco decorative arts.
Materials and design
Art Deco is characterized by use of materials such as aluminum, stainless steel, lacquer, Bakelite, Chrome and inlaid wood. Exotic materials such as sharkskin (shagreen), and zebra skin were also in evidence. The bold use of stepped forms and sweeping curves (unlike the sinuous, natural curves of the Art Nouveau), chevron patterns, the ziggurat, the fountain, and the sunburst motif are typical of Art Deco. Some of these motifs were ubiquitous ― for example, sunburst motifs were used in such varied contexts as ladies’ shoes, radiator grilles, the auditorium of the Radio City Music Hall.