Art Deco was an international design and art movement in the 1920s and ’30s. Influenced by sources as varied as the Bauhaus School in Germany, the Cubist paintings of Georges Braques and Pablo Picasso, Mayan ruins in the Yucatan, and the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, the style was a rejection of the organic, naturalistic sensibility of Art Nouveau.
Art Deco was a machine-made aesthetic for a fast-paced industrial age, using symmetry and line to bring order to the natural world and suggest movement in objects as inert as chairs and bookends. Even the cinema echoed and inspired the trend, most famously in Fritz Lang’s 1927 vision of dystopia, Metropolis.
For a time, no object escaped the streamline touch of Art Deco. Frank Lloyd Wright filled his geometric buildings with equally angular lamps, tables, and stained-glass windows. Indeed, Art Deco architecture is perhaps the most enduring legacy of the style.
The 1930 Chrysler Building, an Art Deco masterpiece, is one of the most famous landmarks in Manhattan; the 1937 Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is another Art Deco triumph, in this case of both design and engineering. Then there’s Ocean Drive in the South Beach section of Miami, home to some 800 preserved Art Deco structures. Inside all those Art Deco buildings was furniture by the likes of Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann, who equipped his armchairs with assertive, mesa-flat armrests. Elsewhere in the house, a host of decorative and functional objects set an elegant tone.
Because most Art Deco objects were mass-produced, a great many survive today, making them terrific and often surprisingly affordable collectibles. Industrial designers Raymond Loewy and Henry Dreyfus created many functional objects (such as clocks, radios, and telephones) with the classic Art Deco angular, streamlined look. Statuettes and figurines, frequently of female nudes, were produced in plastic, bronze, and ceramic. Glass objects — from vases to perfume bottles — were also popular, with René Lalique, Antonin Daum, Henri Navarre, and Maurice Marinot among the most prized practitioners.
Porcelain figurines created for Robj, Rosenthal, and Lenci often depicted characters and caricatures dressed in the fabrics of the day, with Art Deco costume jewelry on their necks and Art Deco watches on their wrists. By the bed would be a bronze and mahogany clock, in the dining room a china service emblazoned with geometric patterns, and in the living room silver and enamel cigarette cases leaning against ashtrays made of Bakelite.
Art Deco had a great ride, but by 1939 the movement had run its course, giving way to World War II and what we now know as the Mid-Century Modern style (which made even the simple flourishes of Art Deco look baroque). A 1966 exhibition in Paris at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs reminded the world why Art Deco, previously called modernism, had been so popular in its day. Today, it may be even more so...
Key terms for Art Deco:
Bakelite: One of several patented early plastic resins (along with Plaskon, Beetle, Catalin, etc.) popular in the 1920s and 30s, which are associated with Art Deco style objects. Invented by Leo Baekeland.
Streamlining: In an effort to make everything from radios to railroad trains look modern, designers tried for a streamlined look, which became ubiquitous during the heyday of Art Deco.
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Acne Studios Celebrates the First Anniversary of Its Los Angeles Flagship With ...Complex.com, December 26th
It's been one year since Acne Studios opened its first flagship store on the West Coast, and to celebrate the milestone, the Swedish label has released a special edition Eastern Columbia Building sweatshirt, which nods to the art deco skyscraper that...Read more
5 magnificent highlights from Russia's first private Art Deco museumRussia Beyond the Headlines, December 26th
Russia's very first private Art Deco museum has opened its doors to visitors in Moscow. Founded by businessman and gallerist Mkrtich Okroyan, the owner of what is believed to be one of the world's largest collections of Art Deco works, the museum...Read more
How DTE Turned an Art Deco Gem Into Sleek Office SpaceCurbed National, December 24th
After serving as an outpost of the Salvation Army for 66 years, an Art Deco gem on Bagley Street was left vacant in 2004. Today, after an 8-month renovation by DTE Energy, it's now the eco-friendly office building known as Navitas House. That sounds...Read more
Downtown art-deco building getting new ownersNashville Business Journal, December 22nd
The James Robertson apartment building downtown — an art-deco building listed on the National Register of Historic Places — could soon have new owners. Nashville Post reports that the 12-story building, located at 114 Seventh Ave. N., is under contract...Read more
This Woman DIYed Her Own Art Deco Sailor Moon Themed Wedding And It ...The Mary Sue, December 19th
In all seriously, Michelle Nguyen (AKA IamaChubbyBunny, a pretty awesome cosplayer whom we've featured on the site before) must actually be a magical girl princess, because even though she's a professional event planner and competent seamstress, ...Read more
Cricket legends to play in Art Deco exhibition matchScoop.co.nz (press release), December 16th
The match will be a friendly 20/20 game, based on an Art Deco theme and style which will include players donning traditional 1930's cricket attire with a host of sideline activity celebrating the era which is synonymous with Napier City and Hawke's Bay ...Read more
Slide Show: The Beautiful Ruins of an Art Deco Movie PalaceLA Magazine, December 9th
The 1931 theater was the last to open on Broadway, and it's the only one in the art deco style. That combination of futurism and decay always gets me. Various swap meets have been selling tube socks in the lobby for a generation, but as owner Joseph ...Read more
Manjimup aims to be art deco capital of WAABC Online, December 6th
Manjimup, in Western Australia's South West, is hoping to become the state's biggest art deco destination. Like Mildura in Victoria and Napier in New Zealand, the town embarked on a project to turn its art deco townscape into a lucrative tourist...Read more