Art Deco

~The Era of Luxury and Progress~

Smooth sleek lines, geometric shapes, bright colors and streamlined forms. You know it when you see it.

Art Deco style first appeared in France just before World War I, and began to flourish globally in the mid 1920’s through the 1930’s. Its real debut is often attributed to the 1925 Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes, where modern decorative arts were on full display. This new “style moderne” was an escape from convention and a clear break from the past. It was all about style and luxury and less about function and practicality. The war was over and the mood was optimistic. Art Deco “represented scientific progress, and the consequent rise of commerce, technology and speed” (visual-arts-cork.com). The innovative style quickly spread throughout the industrialized world, including the United States, where it was “Americanized” and simplified for mass production. This “streamlining” was seen in the clean lines and strong curves of cars, architecture (think skyscrapers like the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building), textiles, tableware and furniture. Advertising and travel posters featured bold graphics and geometric shapes. Paintings, sculpture, ceramics, lighting, jewelry, appliances and even bookbinding were all influenced in their design. Manufacturing materials used often were steel, chromed metal, Bakelite and glass. Lavish ornamentation and rich colors were key design elements.

The term “Art Deco” was not actually widely used until it was popularized by art historian and critic Bevis Hillier in 1968. Although it originates in the 1920’s, its inspiration borrows from much earlier times. A varied and multi-cultural mix of Greco-Roman architecture, African tribal designs, ancient Egyptian art and the sophistication of Paris are all well represented in Art Deco design.

As World War II loomed, the opulent style of Art Deco soon went out of fashion. It saw a resurgence beginning in the 1960’s and continues to be a very important influence on contemporary art and design. There is a strong following for decorative items of this period and it does not seem to be fading any time soon. Perhaps it is because it is associated with a romantic era of luxury, fun, travel and progress. As Brian J.R. Blench puts it, Art Deco is “for luxury and leisure, for comfort and conviviality. It is an exciting style and should, like the archetypal drink of the period, the cocktail, be enjoyed while it is still laughing at you” (Art Deco Society of New York, 1985).

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