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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The Aesthete: Sotheby's Auctions Félix Marcilhac's Exquisite Art Deco CollectionArchitectural Digest (blog), March 10th
Félix Marcilhac is one of the greatest Art Deco dealers in the world—which explains why Yves Saint Laurent, Andy Warhol, and others relied on his expertise to ornament their rooms. All of that's in the past, however, now that he and his wife, Noëlle...Read more
Visit the Art Deco capital of Australia, Leeton NSWHerald Sun, March 8th
CHANEL Parratt visits the Art Deco capital of Australia and meets a bunch of characters who make the concept of 'farm to plate' a possibility. Peter Randall - Randall Organic Rice. Starting at Randall Organic Rice we find owner-farmer Peter Randall and...Read more
Expert to explore examples of art deco in DetroitSacramento Bee, March 8th
CLINTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- The wide-ranging examples of art deco design in Detroit will be the topic of a talk by a writer, preservationist and expert of the style. Rebecca Binno Savage will talk at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Lorenzo Cultural Center in...Read more
Oakland's Glenview school - rebuild or keep Art Deco style?San Francisco Chronicle, March 7th
Glenview Elementary was headed up, but now it's headed down. Literally. One of Oakland's most popular and high-achieving elementary schools - a two-story, Art Deco classic just off Park Boulevard - is threatened with demolition because it's seismically ...Read more
Owner of Art Deco tower to make new pitchTurn to 10, March 5th
The owners of the landmark Art Deco tower at 111 Westminster St. showed plans Wednesday to convert the former bank building into about 280 apartments. The proposal comes amid plans to completely change the landscape of Kennedy Plaza...Read more
Hotel Metro makes art deco "green"OnMilwaukee.com, March 5th
"Going green" has been an emphasis for businesses and consumers alike for years now, but Milwaukee's Hotel Metro was ahead of the curve, using sustainable products upon its construction in the late 1990s to make its 1937 Art Deco building look truly ...Read more
Art Deco capital embraces tragic giftartsHub Australia (subscription), February 25th
But by the early 1980s Napier was recognised as the world's most consistently Art Deco city, and in 1985, when the Council demolished an aging 1930s' building, the population rebelled. 'That was the last time an Art Deco building was demolished in...Read more
Art Deco fever grabs hold of localsNew Zealand Herald, February 21st
Just before noon yesterday Art Deco Trust event manager Peter Mooney returned to his office after sorting another job out and said "you can sense it's all starting to happen out there now." The steam traction engine had begun taking delighted...Read more