jueves, 20 de septiembre de 2018


Surya Tubach

Art Deco grew out of a yearning, aggressive desire to be rid of the past and embrace the future in all its man-made, machine-driven glory. The aesthetic movement rose and fell in the period between the two World Wars and played an outsize role in shaping the West’s modern imagination, particularly within France and the United States. (New York, Chicago, Miami, and San Francisco—to name just a few American cities—all boast prominent Art Deco architecture.) A Gatsbyish hedonism descended on prosperous post-war America; new technologies made cars, radios, and refrigerators accessible to the average person; and consumer tastes for ornament and luxury skyrocketed.

As a result, design evolved to reflect and enhance this heady sense of advancement.
The sleek, streamlined designs of Art Deco—also called “style moderne”—emphasized speed, power, and progress, contrasting with its lighter, airier predecessor, Art Nouveau, the dominant fin-de-siècle style. Art Nouveau took inspiration from the natural world: twisting vines, flower petals, and undulating waves characterized sensuous paintings by Alphonse Mucha, as well as fantastic architectural designs by Antoni Gaudí. While Art Nouveau celebrated organic shapes, Art Deco lionized clean lines and geometric patterns.
Art Deco grew out of a desire in France to reestablish the country as a top-tier producer of decorative arts. The establishment of the Société des Artistes Décorateurs around the turn of the century raised the respect for objets d’art. The definition of art began to expand beyond painting and sculpture and into domains like glasswork and jewelry, with creators of the latter coming to be considered artists, rather than artisans.
The movement also evolved in step with avant-garde art movements and other aspects of culture. Cubist paintings by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque reduced three-dimensional objects to flat, geometric forms; the Dutch architecture and design faction De Stijl, exemplified by Piet Mondrian and Gerrit Rietveld, touted a simplified aesthetic. The popularity of exotic, oriental motifs—spurred on by the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1922 and epitomized by ballets like Scheherazade—also played a role. Theater and dance, particularly the Ballet Russes, influenced figures across disciplines. Artists such as Sonia Delaunay and Léon Bakst, for instance, designed costumes and sets for the ballet, and the elaborate productions likewise featured in paintings and sculptures. Indeed, the intermingling of art, design, performance, and fashion played a large role in shaping the evolution of Art Deco.
The style reached its apex in 1925, when the French government sponsored the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes. The design fair’s only real requirement was that all work had to be “thoroughly modern.” Widely visited, the expo established the movement on the world stage and prompted the official title of “Art Deco” (a shortened version of “Arts Décoratifs”). In the 1930s, the glamorous style began to wane, becoming more austere as the Great Depression shifted popular taste toward less extravagant, ostentatious forms.


The rise of the modern city came with the rise of the skyscraper: a thoroughly modern invention that emphasized clean lines, solidity, and dizzying scale. The Art Deco treatment was often applied to public buildings like theaters or banks, but the skyscraper goes furthest in embodying the style, which achieved international popularity.
New York’s Chrysler Building may be the most famous example. Completed in 1930, it held the title of the world’s tallest building for a proud 11 months before it was eclipsed by the Empire State Building. Triangles emanate from the rounded tiers decorating the top of the Chrysler Building; the arrangement resembles the sun radiating toward a peak, invoking the man-over-nature power captured by the gravity-defying skyscraper. As an architectural cherry on top, the building’s iconic metal gargoyles are extraordinarily sleek, bearing more of a resemblance to the hood ornament of a car than the motif’s traditionally fearsome Victorian counterparts.

Sculptural friezes and bas-reliefs were also popular adornments to building façades. Stylized renditions of classical gods proved popular, appearing on Chicago’s Sheridan Theater and Buffalo’s Industrial Bank Building, to name a few.
Renewed interest in Art Deco has more recently prompted various restoration projects, most notably at movie theaters. Talking pictures were a wildly popular new medium in the 1920s, and movie stars became public obsessions. Movie theaters were dubbed “palaces” and bedecked with bright neon lights, chicly decorated interiors, and huge screening rooms. California in particular boasts a host of movie palaces; today, you can catch a film at Oakland’s Grand Lake Theatre or San Francisco’s Alameda Theatre in all their original splendor.


Alavoine of Paris and New York, Wel-Worgelt Study, ca. 1928-1930. Designed by Henri Redard and executed by Jean Dunand. Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum.

To complement the modern extravagance of Art Deco architecture, the splendor of the interiors had to match. During this time, interior designers became celebrities in their own right. The furniture designer Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann was known for artfully shaped end tables and angular chairs. His series of interior design sketches, published as the compendium Harmonies: Intérieurs de Ruhlmann, offers mesmerizing glimpses into the ideal Art Deco home. Bright colors and luxe materials qualify the gracefully rounded tables and colossal mirrors in one entryway, while his bedroom designs offer patterned walls and enormous, sculptural seats.
Maurice Dufrêne was another sought-after furniture designer known for his elaborate interiors of salons and boutiques (he headed the design workshop at the Galeries Lafayette, the mammoth Parisian department store). Another peer, Jean Dunand, earned a reputation for his lacquer furniture, created with novel Japanese techniques.
This aesthetic also extended to functional design objects such as car ornaments, tea sets, and jewelry. Everyday objects were often made of new materials that reflected the thirst for cutting-edge technologies. A popular design for the newly accessible home radio, for instance, was as a stylized object made of Bakelite, a recently developed type of consumer plastic. Many artists didn’t restrict themselves to one medium, but worked across disciplines.
In the 1920s, jewelry designer and glassworker René Lalique turned his attention to glasswork, metal, and enamel: expensive man-made materials that befitted the new style’s obsession with modernity. In addition to sleek vases and perfume bottles, Lalique crafted hood ornaments (also known as “mascots”) for cars—also a technology becoming more widely accessible during this time—which are miniature sculptures all unto their own. In Cinq Chevaux (1925), created for the new Citroën 5CV, five simplified horses with streamlined manes and tails leap forward, implying force and energy.
Jean Després was another famed jeweler and designer. His Unique Tea Service (ca. 1935) takes the familiar, rounded form of a teapot and turns it into a gleaming silver prism, full of right angles and sleek lines. Reimagining everyday objects like tea services and silverware shows the extent to which Art Deco’s practitioners envisioned the reach of modernity into daily life. (Ironically, this desire was often more aspirational than functional, as many of the tea sets were simply too impractical to actually use.) Museums helped canonize these objects as fine art: In 1923, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York established its first modern design gallery, filling it with Art Deco pieces by the likes of Ruhlmann and Lalique…………….
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