Art Deco was one of the most influential decorative styles of the first half of the twentieth century. Despite its popularity during the time between the two World Wars, it was only recognized as a movement in the sixties. Unlike modernist art and design moments, which have philosophies and manifestos, Art Deco was purely decorative.
Les Années '25 exhibition
The term 'Art Deco' was coined in 1926, after the showing of a retrospective exhibition entitled Les Années '25, which was held at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. It is also refereed to as style moderne. The 1925 exhibition differed from previous international exhibitions as it was the first time that the decorative and applied arts were the feature. The exhibition also had a strong emphasis on the modern and all artists who did not adhere to this criteria were excluded. The design represented varied from individually crafted luxury items to mass-produced wares but were united by the designers common intention to create an anti-traditional product that stood for abundance and sophistication.
Art Deco was sometimes refereed to as 'Cubism Tamed' because it borrowed many elements from the Cubist movement. Like the Cubists the Art Deco designers were fascinated with geometry, abstraction and fragmented forms. The Art Deco moment also found inspiration from the avant-garde traditions such as Fauvism, Futurism, Constructivism and Suprematism.
Exotic cultural elements also found their way into Art Deco design. Designers were intrigued by the designs found in various cultures ranging from ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia to Asia, Mesoamerica and Africa.
Connection with other design moments
The Bauhaus design school and the Art Deco movement shared common characteristics; namely their use of geometric forms and symmetrical compositions and their merger of the fine arts and crafts. However, the Bauhaus designers strove to create utilitarian and efficient designs while the Art Deco artists produced luxurious and extravagant items.
Art Nouveau is often compared to the Art Deco movement as both movements were strongly influenced by fine art tradition and generous ornaments. These design traditions do differ, however, in their treatment of shapes and lines. While Art deco used bold geometrical patterns in symmetrical arrangements Art Nouveau employed asymmetrical forms taken from the natural environment.
Distinguishing features of art deco
The distinguishing features of its style are its simple, clean shapes. The designs are geometric or stylized from representational forms. The materials used are generally expensive and often man-made such as plastics, vita-glass and ferroconcrete. Although Art Deco objects were generally hand-made the distinctive features of the style showed an admiration of modern machines and machine-made objects.
The Designer Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann was a pioneer of the this style and a strong promoter of the movement. Ruhlmann was a well known French designer of furniture and interiors. In 1919 Ruhlmann and Pierre Laurent founded the company Ruhlmann et Laurent. The company specialized in interior design and the production of luxury home items. Ruhlmann held that the salvation of art depended on the elites and he and his work embodied the dramatic and luxurious feeling of his times.
The work of Jean Despres can be described as an Art Deco celebration of the technological developments and industrialization of his era. Depres became famous for his innovative and conceptual geometric jewelry designs. Some of his works were based on actual machine parts while others feature miniature cubist paintings and neo-classical pieces.
The Art Deco movement can be said to have been a highly influential movement characterized by a love of opulence, luxuriousness and sophistication and a keen use of geometric and stylized forms.