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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Recent News: Art Deco
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Entire Art Deco block of units up for grabs in ManlyThe Daily Telegraph, July 31st
AN Art Deco block of six units coming to market for the first time in half a century is the headline listing for the northern beaches this weekend. The three-storey block at 14 Osborne Rd has a guide price around $4 million for its on-site auction on...Read more
Iconic art deco clock removed from Golden Gate Bridge during toll plaza ...Marin Independent Journal, July 31st
Workers removed the iconic art deco clock from the Golden Gate Bridge toll plaza Thursday in preparation for the installation of a moveable median barrier. The clock will return to the toll plaza in October once construction work has been completed...Read more
Tulsa's dazzling art decoHouston Chronicle, July 31st
New York, Miami Beach and Los Angeles usually are the first cities that to come to mind when one thinks of art deco architecture. But Tulsa? It may come as a surprise, but Tulsa ranks among the top eight concentrations of art deco buildings nationally...Read more
Milwaukee Architectureurbanmilwaukee, July 30th
Prior to this the Art Deco movement was referred to as the “style moderne,” itself a misnomer because it is comprised of three related schools: zigzag moderne, streamline moderne, and classical moderne. However, these categories do help illuminate...Read more
Spencer Street, West Melbourne residential site offering with art deco facadeProperty Observer, July 29th
The much-offered, much altered 420 Spencer Street residential development project site, on the western gateway to Melbourne's CBD, has been relisted for sale. The West Melbourne offering now comes with approval for a 438 unit, 38 level tower designed ...Read more
Miami Icons: The Colony Hotel, the Most Famous Art Deco Building on Ocean ...Miami New Times (blog), July 29th
And even if the ideas and attitudes towards South Beach that locals and tourists hold don't exactly match up, nobody can contend that the Art Deco architecture is an intrinsic part of the Beach's personality as a city. Most of that style was designed...Read more
First look: Grandpa Johnson's, an Art Deco cocktail lounge now open in HollywoodLos Angeles Times, July 25th
It's late in the afternoon Thursday and L.A. nightlife veteran Johnny Zander is squinting in the bright sunlight, standing in the doorway to his latest Hollywood venture, Grandpa Johnson's. From the street it looks like a closed vintage jewelry store...Read more
Hotel Review: Pestana South Beach Art Deco Hotel in Miami BeachNew York Times, July 25th
The Pestana South Beach Art Deco Hotel is the first foray into the United States by the Portuguese Pestana Hotels & Resorts group, opening in Miami in April 2013. This property, with 97 rooms as well as two two-bedroom suites spread over four gleaming ...Read more