We have recently explored the movement in decorative arts and architecture called Art Deco. We’ve touched upon the concepts and influences of one of the most beautiful styles in history. But now, we will go further and focus more on the social context of this visually stunning form, discuss its origins, time period and reflect upon its everlasting influence. Where was Art Deco period born? What circumstances led to the development of one of the most beautiful styles of artistic expression? Just how far did this obsession with beauty go? This unique art movement gripped the imagination of nations worldwide, bringing the sleek lines and decorative style to architecture, furniture, jewelry, arts, and many other forms. It has elevated the mass travel to an experience of comfort, glamor, and luxury. It influenced our vision of the future and produced timeless landmarks still standing tall today. Art Deco style was eclectic, the one that drew upon many sources. It reflected the human need for pleasure and escape, providing a modern outlook on life. Art Deco was a celebration of life in its most luxurious form.
It was a time of Industrial Revolution and progress, people were becoming wealthy, different generations with different priorities were coming to conquer the scene. By the second half of the nineteenth century, the face of the western world was changing dramatically. Known as the lost generation, those who came of age during World War I and the 1920s wanted more from life. They were clamoring for glamour, filled with Joie de vivre, they craved the very best that life could offer. They were dubbed as the lost generation because they rashly spent the flower of their youth, either dying before or during World War II. In between the two global conflicts, something beautiful blossomed, found its way through the prevailing mixed feelings of relief and joy, anxiety and trepidation. Art Deco was born. The style reached the apex of its popularity right in the 1920s and 1930s, with the ultimate celebration of the new designs displayed in an exhibition held in 1925 in Paris. Many international exhibitions promoted Art Deco and developed its influence, but none was more important than the one in Paris entitled the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes. Thousands of designs from all over Europe and beyond were brought together, gathering more than staggering 16 million visitors. This event was a pivotal one for Art Deco style, marking the high point of its first phase. The show aimed to establish the pre-eminence of French taste and luxury goods. This celebration of life and taste marked Paris as one of the most fashionable cities. Paris transformed into an arts mecca. Major manufacturers, department stores, designers, avenues of boutiques and other enticing venues and happenings would draw countless visitors during the day. At night, Paris would earn its very deserving title of the city of light. Bridges, fountains, monumental gates, and major landmarks would become illuminated and breathe life into the streets of the heart of France, making the entire city a blazing spectacle. Art Deco began to attain its character, the themes and formal repertoire were being established and the exhibition made an immediate impact throughout the global scene.
Winds of commerce and early waves of capitalism brought the contagious new art style to almost every corner of the planet. After 1925, Art Deco spread quickly. The wealthy traveled in luxurious ocean liners, bringing along the films, magazines, artistry, style and the atmosphere of the new style. It was not long before Art Deco became synonymous with modernity, bringing a fresh escape from the convention and tradition. But, unlike other competing forms, such as Art Nouveau or Modernism, Art Deco also carried a certain accessible image of modern life and progress, and ultimately, fun, which was welcomed almost anywhere it landed. Cityscapes and rich homes around the globe became redesigned with the new form. From Mexico City to Shanghai, from New York to Bombay, youth, glamour, fantasy and fun were celebrated through this fresh vision. The thriving urban culture of Japan in between two wars witnessed a dramatic transformation. The everlasting search for balance between tradition and modernity was shaken up with the emergence of new department stores, cinemas and cafes. It was not only the infrastructure of Asia that was affected by the western influence, ceramic works, metal, lacquer and graphics were also impacted by the new-coming trend from the west. Leading European designers were commissioned to create their work which would bring the new aesthetic and craze to other lands. Chic, Art Deco apartment buildings and objects reached even the seafront of Bombay, giving it a modern look which was welcomed by the young generations in India. The specific Art Deco period left an extraordinary mark in the history of travel as well. From the rise and fall of Lindbergh’s first transatlantic flight in 1926 and its horrible ending in 1937, to vast, luxurious ocean liners, Art Deco style marked the expansion of mass travel and elevated it to a point of an exclusive, luxurious experience.
Art Deco reached its zenith over 80 years ago, so how come its influence is still very much alive and present in many modern cultural aspects, motion pictures and artistic expressions? While many other art movements have come and gone, Art Deco style retains a certain level of everlasting popularity. One of the best examples of its undying allure is the recent major Hollywood hit The Great Gatsby. Based upon F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, The Great Gatsby perhaps best captures the vibrant spirit and the lush atmosphere of the Art Deco period. The roaring 1920s - a turbulent time for the traditional values. Old notions were being thrown out the window, welcoming the new perspective of life, filled with smoky jazz clubs, opulent parties and subterranean speakeasies. From architecture to literature, Art Deco was an era-defining style which could be seen and enjoyed all around. Bold geometries and dramatic flourishes swept away the nations, leaving them in awe of the new aesthetics. The vastly-spread influence reached even the spheres of sci-fi. Arguably, one of the first and greatest sci-fi epics of all time, Fritz Lang’s 1927 opus Metropolis was significantly embroidered with Art Deco elements. As the author once said, he was inspired to create the movie from seeing the skyscrapers in New York in October of 1924. The strong influence of several artistic movements is obvious in the movie, but Art Deco and Lang’s use of this style’s ideas contributed greatly to its subsequent popularity in Europe and America. There was something inadvertently futuristic about the precise and lean design which characterized the period. A single look at the poster for Metropolis and its iconic robot Maria instantly rings a bell to more modern editions of sci-fi depictions. The famous robot, C-3PO, from Star Wars bears much resemblance to his predecessor. And so do many other movies that return to the past to portray the future, such as the legendary neo-noir Blade Runner, sci-fi masterpieces like Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca and others. This only goes to prove how vast and everlasting the influence of Art Deco was and still is, even today.
The mesmerizing, almost utopian art movement that was Art Deco, developed as one of the first universal styles in over 100 years, combining the design forms of the past to create the vision of the future. From the skyscrapers in New York to smoky jazz cafes in Paris, from apartment buildings in Bombay to ceramics, metal and graphic works in Japan, Art Deco design traveled with luxurious ocean liners across the nations, bringing the new aesthetic and vision of future. With such zest, color, playfulness and glamor, the design captivated people everywhere. In the light of a new age, in between two world wars, juxtaposed atmospheres of prosper and decay danced together the dance of Art Deco. Hunger for life, fashion, style and feeling good about self was satisfied with this bold movement. The wealthy followers accepted the trend as a beacon of light in dark times. Alas, the glamor, the shine and the omnipresent beauty could never last. With another major global conflict close at hand, focus on the nations shifted once more from the beauty of life to the horrors of war. The mesmerizing period of Art Deco left an indelible mark on our world, with some of the greatest examples still standing tall today. There really wasn’t, nor shall there be, anything else like Art Deco.
Editors’ Tip: Art Deco 1910-1939
Art Deco 1910-1939, edited by Charlotte Benton, Tim Benton and Ghislaine Wood, revisits this luxurious movement in his golden years, emphasizing the glamour and hedonism of the Jazz Age. Art Deco burst onto the stage at the 1925 Exposition internationale des art decoratifs et industriels modernes in Paris and quickly swept the globe. Its influence was felt everywhere, from the skylines of New York and Shanghai to the design of fashionable eveningwear, jewelry, and plastic radios, as it also became the style of the pleasure palaces of the age—hotels, nightclubs, and movie theaters. This authoritative publication brings together leading experts in the field to explore the sources, varied forms of expression, distinct visual language, and global reach of deco.
All images used for illustrative purposes only