This movement was, in a sense, a broad umbrealla covering many different artistic styles and movements in the early 20th century such as Neoclassical, Constructivism, Cubism, Modernism, Bauhaus, Art Nouveau, and Futurism. Its popularity peaked in Europe during the so called “Roaring Twenties” and continued strongly in the United States well in to the 1930s Although many design movements have had political or philosophical influences, Art Deco was purely decorative and considered as functional, modern and elegant.
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The roots of the Art Deco design movement stretch back to the Universal Exposition of 1900 where various French artists came together to form a group called La Société des artistes décorateurs (the society of the decorator artists). Group founders included Eugène Grasset, Raoul Lachenal, Hector Guimard, Paul Follot, Maurice Dufrene, and Emile Decour and these mames are now recognised as fundamentally influencing the birth of what has become Art Deco. This group organized the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Art) which promoted French art commercially. The terms Style Moderne and Art Deco both derive from the exposition’s title, though Art Deco was not adopted in to comon use until publication of the 1968 book Art Deco of the 20s and 30s by Bevis Hillier.
In the summer of 1969, Hillier was the driving force behind the exhibition titled “Art Deco” at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts which opened in July 1971. As a result of this exhibition and the publication of Hillier’s book based on the event, “The World of Art Deco”, interest in the design movement soared.
Art Deco is fundamentally based on geometric shapes. Opinons sometimes differ but many considered Art Deco to be a form of elegant and stylish modernism influenced by a variety of sources including so called “primitive” arts of Africa, Ancient Egypt and Mayan designs from Central America. More modern influences included the major technologies of the period like aviation, electric lighting, radio, ocean liners and the skyscraper buildings. Design influences were usually expressed in fractionated, crystalline, 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. The Fisher Building and the Guardian Building in Detroit, Michigan being fine examples.
Art Deco is often characterized by the use of artificial materials, most notably stainless steel and glass but other materials such as aluminium, lacquer, inlaid wood, sharkskin, and zebraskin all featured widely. The bold use of stepped forms and sweeping curves, chevron patterns, and the sunburst motif are typical of Art Deco. Such motifs can be found adorning ladies’ shoes, automible radiator grilles, the auditorium of the Radio City Music Hall, and the spire of the Chrysler Building.
Art Deco was an opulent and contrasted with the austerity suffered during World War I. Its richness could be seen demonstrated in many designs between the wars including the Golden Gate Bridge, interiors of cinema theaters, the Queen Mary liner. Super examples of Art Deco design can be found in America’s train stations of the 1930s. The first art deco train station in the United States was the Union Station in Omaha, Nebraska.
The Art Deco movement slowly declined in the West when it began to be derided as gaudy and presenting a false image of luxury and the advent of World War II saw its end. However in many colonial countries such as India and the Philippines it continued to be used well into the 1960s. A resurgence of interest in Art Deco came with graphic design in the 1980s, where its association with film noir and 1930s glamour led to its use in ads for jewelry and fashion. South Beach in Miami Beach, Florida has the largest collection of art deco architecture remaining in North America, as well as a section of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Napier, New Zealand has an almost entirely art deco town centre.
Some of the finest surviving examples of art deco art and architecture can be found in Cuba, particularly Havana. Just as the 1950s automobiles from the U.S. have been preserved and restored so have many buildings like the Bacardi Building
Although Art Deco fell out of vogue in the 1940s, it has had small subsequent rebirths. Its designs frequently appear in modern architecture, entertainment, and media when a “classic retro” look is sought. In media, such examples are obvious in Batman: The Animated Series from the early 1990s in which the show’s creators used art-deco styling fused with a deliberate darkness to create a variant style often referred to as Dark Deco. Films such as Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Dick Tracy, and King Kong featured various art deco elements also.
In Singapore, the Parkview Square building, completed in 2002, is built in an art-deco style and includes an art-deco-styled lobby. Art Deco can also be found in the graphic design of various video games, such as BioShock and the Fallout series where it gives high-tech settings a retro but futuristic appearance.
Today Art Deco design items are a favourite among collectors and interior designers and there’s no better website than eBay to see art deco design implementations where thousands of items are now traded.
For more information about the art deco design movement visit the Art Deco pages at Seek you Out.