Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Art Deco Style

The Art Deco style was at its zenith in the 1920's and was the perfect style for that point in history. World War I  was recently ended and still being called the war to end all wars. The stark and looming economic troubles that had come to a head in 1920 were turned aside to such a degree that few remember that those difficulties existed at that time and only remember that the era was known as the "Roaring 20's".  It is easy to see why it is remembered that way. Industry and other businesses were roaring. Hollywood was at a peak of glamor that is still reminisced about today. Granted, we still couldn't drink legally.... Although it was a curious ad campaign from around that time that you could buy these large containers of grape juice. Even more curious was that when you bought this grape juice, you would get a package of yeast as a free gift. You would also get a stern warning not to add the yeast to the grape juice, cover it, and let it stand at room temperature for about two weeks because you might accidentally create something alcoholic. I seem to have wandered off topic. Where was I?

Ah yes, the Art Deco style. Several elements came into play with this style. The first two things were glamor and optimism. Times were good and people were happy.  As a result, they looked to incorporate some of the glamor that they saw surrounding many of the celebrities at the time and they had the means to do that.  Advancements and prosperity were generally moving along at a good clip. Where as you would see things like an inlayed dragonfly in the Art Nouveau style that proceeded Deco to hearken back to preindustrial life, during this period in history there was much more of an embrace of industry and modernism in general. As an interesting twist, one other influence on the Art Deco style was completely unrelated to the embrace of modernism and cubism of the time. Archeology also made some great discoveries at the time. The the tomb of Tutankhamun, Pompeii, and Troy were all discovered during this time and it had a direct impact upon the Art Deco style. So now that we have a taste of the when and why surrounding this style, let's get to the what part.

While the Art Deco style has often be described as eclectic, there are some reoccurring themes.  Much of the structure is based upon geometric shapes, stepped curves, and repeated patterns showing distinct planning and intention rather than a more natural, random aesthetic. Chevron patterns, ziggurat-shapes, fountains, and the sunburst motif were common as well as the stepped style reminiscent of Mayan temples and the earliest Egyptian pyramids. In terms of architecture, there is perhaps no better example than the top of the Chrysler building.
Source Wikipedia

As for materials, aluminium, stainless steel, lacquer, Bakelite, Chrome and inlaid wood were often used. The wood was often exotic and the inlay was more so. Rather than being left with a more natural feel, wood was often lacquered to give it a more sleek and streamlined appearance. Exotic materials such as sharkskin, zebra skin, semi precious stones were also evident.

The Art Deco style began to decline in the 1930's. If you wanted to point to one or two things that rather killed off the style, it would be its own success and the economy of the 1930's.  One of the things that was a draw for many in terms of the style was that it had a feel of exclusivity or specialness to at least a certain extent.  As industry got better and better at mass producing these items, they became less special and exclusive. It then started to get derided as gaudy and presenting a false sense of luxury. Couple that with the economic downturn of the 1930's and the glamorous, jubilant style just didn't fit with the times. The style faded at that point, until a resurgence in interest came about during the 1960s with the first book on the subject by Bevis Hillier in 1968 and later an exhibition organized by him in Minneapolis in 1971.