Student Essays Zigzag Moderne Architecture

Left to right, top to bottom: Prometheus by Paul Manship, Rockefeller Center, New York (1937), salon of Paul Reynaud in Paris (1934), Chrysler Building in New York City (1930) and hood ornament "Victoire" by René Lalique (1928)

Years active1910–1939

Art Deco, sometimes referred to as Deco, is a style of visual arts, architecture and design that first appeared in France just before World War I. Art Deco influenced the design of buildings, furniture, jewelry, fashion, cars, movie theatres, trains, ocean liners, and everyday objects such as radios and vacuum cleaners. It took its name, short for Arts Décoratifs, from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts) held in Paris in 1925. It combined modernist styles with fine craftsmanship and rich materials. During its heyday, Art Deco represented luxury, glamour, exuberance, and faith in social and technological progress.

Art Deco was a pastiche of many different styles, sometimes contradictory, united by a desire to be modern. From its outset, Art Deco was influenced by the bold geometric forms of Cubism; the bright colors of Fauvism and of the Ballets Russes; the updated craftsmanship of the furniture of the eras of Louis Philippe and Louis XVI; and the exotic styles of China and Japan, India, Persia, ancient Egypt and Maya art. It featured rare and expensive materials, such as ebony and ivory, and exquisite craftsmanship. The Chrysler Building and other skyscrapers of New York built during the 1920s and 1930s are monuments of the Art Deco style.

In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, the Art Deco style became more subdued. New materials arrived, including chrome plating, stainless steel and plastic. A sleeker form of the style, called Streamline Moderne, appeared in the 1930s; it featured curving forms and smooth, polished surfaces.[4] Art Deco is one of the first truly international styles, but its dominance ended with the beginning of World War II and the rise of the strictly functional and unadorned styles of modernism and the International Style of architecture that followed.[5]


Art Deco took its name, short for Arts Décoratifs, from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes held in Paris in 1925, though the diverse styles that characterize Art Deco had already appeared in Paris and Brussels before World War I.

The term arts décoratifs was first used in France in 1858; published in the Bulletin de la Société française de photographie.[6]

In 1868, Le Figaro newspaper used the term objets d'art décoratifs with respect to objects for stage scenery created for the Théâtre de l'Opéra.[7][8][9]

In 1875, furniture designers, textile, jewelry and glass designers and other craftsmen were officially given the status of artists by the French government. In response to this, the École royale gratuite de dessin (Royal Free School of Design) founded in 1766 under King Louis XVI to train artists and artisans in crafts relating to the fine arts, was renamed the National School of Decorative Arts (l'École nationale des arts décoratifs). It took its present name of ENSAD (École nationale supérieure des arts décoratifs) in 1927.

During the 1925 Exposition the architect Le Corbusier wrote a series of articles about the exhibition for his magazine L'Esprit Nouveau under the title, "1925 Expo: Arts Déco" which were combined into a book, "L'art décoratif d'aujourd'hui" (Decorative Art Today). The book was a spirited attack on the excesses of the colorful and lavish objects at the Exposition; and on the idea that practical objects such as furniture should have any decoration at all; his conclusion was that "Modern decoration has no decoration".

The shorthand title "Arts Deco" that Le Corbusier used in the articles and book was adapted in 1966 for title of the first modern exhibit on the subject, called Les Années 25 : Art déco, Bauhaus, Stijl, Esprit nouveau, which covered the variety of major styles in the 1920s and 1930s. The term Art déco was then used in a 1966 newspaper article by Hillary Gelson in the Times (London, 12 November), describing the different styles at the exhibit.[11][12]

Art Deco gained currency as a broadly applied stylistic label in 1968 when historian Bevis Hillier published the first major academic book on the style: Art Deco of the 20s and 30s. Hillier noted that the term was already being used by art dealers and cites The Times (2 November 1966) and an essay named "Les Arts Déco" in Elle magazine (November 1967) as examples of prior usage. In 1971, Hillier organized an exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, which he details in his book about it, The World of Art Deco.[14][15]


Society of Decorative Artists (1901–1913)[edit]

The emergence of Art Deco was closely connected with the rise in status of decorative artists, who until late in the 19th century had been considered simply as artisans. The term "arts décoratifs" had been invented in 1875, giving the designers of furniture, textiles, and other decoration official status. The Société des artistes décorateurs (Society of decorative artists), or SAD, was founded in 1901, and decorative artists were given the same rights of authorship as painters and sculptors. A similar movement developed in Italy. The first international exhibition devoted entirely to the decorative arts, the Esposizione international d'Arte decorative moderna, was held in Turin in 1902. Several new magazines devoted to decorative arts were founded in Paris, including Arts et décoration and L'Art décoratif moderne. Decorative arts sections were introduced into the annual salons of the Sociéte des artistes français, and later in the Salon d'automne. French nationalism also played a part in the resurgence of decorative arts; French designers felt challenged by the increasing exports of less expensive German furnishings. In 1911, the SAD proposed the holding of a major new international exposition of decorative arts in 1912. No copies of old styles were to be permitted; only modern works. The exhibit was postponed until 1914, then, because of the war, postponed until 1925, when it gave its name to the whole family of styles known as Déco.

The Paris department stores and fashion designers also played an important part in the rise of Art Déco. Established firms including the luggage maker Louis Vuitton, silverware firm Christofle, glass designer René Lalique, and the jewelers Louis Cartier and Boucheron, who all began designing products in more modern styles. Beginning in 1900, the Department stores had recruited decorative artists to work in their design studios. The decoration of the 1912 Salon d'Automne had been entrusted to the department store Printemps.[17] During the same year Printemps created its own workshop called "Primavera". By 1920 Primavera employed more than three hundred artists. The styles ranged from the updated versions of Louis XIV, Louis XVI and especially Louis Philippe furniture made by Louis Süe and the Primavera workshop to more modern forms from the workshop of the Au Louvre department store. Other designers, including Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann and Paul Foliot refused to use mass production, and insisted that each piece be made individually by hand. The early art deco style featured luxurious and exotic materials such as ebony, and ivory and silk, very bright colors and stylized motifs, particularly baskets and bouquets of flowers of all colors, giving a modernist look.[18]

Théâtre des Champs-Élysées (1910–1913)[edit]

    The Théâtre des Champs-Élysées (1910–1913), by Auguste Perret was the first landmark Art Deco building completed in Paris. Previously reinforced concrete had been used only for industrial and apartment buildings, Perret had built the first modern reinforced concrete apartment building in Paris on rue Benjamin Franklin in 1903-04. Henri Sauvage, another important future Art Deco architect, built another in 1904 at 7 rue Trétaigne (1904). From 1908 to 1910, the 21-year old Le Corbusier worked as a draftsman in Perret's office, learning the techniques of concrete construction. Perret's building had clean rectangular form, geometric decoration and straight lines, the future trademarks of Art Deco. The decor of the theater was also revolutionary; the facade was decorated with plaques of Art Deco sculpture by Antoine Bourdelle, a dome by Maurice Denis, paintings by Édouard Vuillard, and an Art Deco curtain Ker-Xavier Roussel. The theater became famous as the venue for many of the first performances of the Ballets Russes. Perret and Sauvage became the leading Art Deco architects in Paris in the 1920s.[19]

    Salon d'Automne (1912–1913)[edit]

    At its birth between 1910 and 1914, Art Deco was an explosion of colors, featuring bright and often clashing hues, frequently in floral designs, presented in furniture upholstery, carpets, screens, wallpaper and fabrics. Many colorful works, including chairs and a table by Maurice Dufrene and a bright Gobelin carpet by Paul Follot were presented at the 1912 Salon des artistes décorateurs. In 1912–1913 designer Alfred Karbowsky made a floral chair with a parrot design for the hunting lodge of art collector Jacques Doucet.[21] The furniture designers Louis Süe and André Mare made their first appearance at the 1912 exhibit, under the name of the Atelier Française, combining colorful fabrics with exotic and expensive materials, including ebony and ivory. After World War I they became one of the most prominent French interior design firms, producing the furniture for the first-class salons and cabins of the French transatlantic ocean liners.

    The vivid colors of Art Deco came from many sources, including the exotic set designs by Leon Bakst for the Ballets Russes, which caused a sensation in Paris just before World War I. Some of the colors were inspired by the earlier Fauvism movement led by Henri Matisse; others by the Orphism of painters such as Sonia Delaunay; others by the movement known as the Nabis, and in the work of symbolist painter Odilon Redon, who designed fireplace screens and other decorative objects. Bright colors were a feature of the work of fashion designer Paul Poiret, whose work influenced both Art Deco fashion and interior design.

    Cubist House (1912)[edit]

    Main article: La Maison Cubiste

    The art style known as Cubism appeared in France between 1907 and 1912, influencing the development of Art Deco. The Cubists, themselves under the influence of Paul Cézanne, were interested in the simplification of forms to their geometric essentials: the cylinder, the sphere, the cone.[23]

    In 1912, the artists of the Section d'Or exhibited works considerably more accessible to the general public than the analytical Cubism of Picasso and Braque. The Cubist vocabulary was poised to attract fashion, furniture and interior designers.[24][25]

    In the 1912 writings of André Vera. Le Nouveau style, published in the journal L'Art décoratif, he expressed the rejection of Art Nouveau forms (asymmetric, polychrome and picturesque) and called for simplicité volontaire, symétrie manifeste, l'ordre et l'harmonie, themes that would eventually become common within Art Deco; though with time the Deco style was often extremely colorful and anything but simple.[26]

    In the Art Décoratif section of the 1912 Salon d'Automne, an architectural installation was exhibited known as the La Maison Cubiste.[27][28] The facade was designed by Raymond Duchamp-Villon. The decor of the house was by the firm of Louis Süe and André Mare, who had formed a company called the Atlelier Français in 1912.[29]La Maison Cubiste was a furnished installation with a facade, a staircase, wrought iron banisters, a bedroom, a living room—the Salon Bourgeois, where paintings by Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger, Marie Laurencin, Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Léger and Roger de La Fresnaye were hung.[30][31][32] Thousands of spectators at the salon passed through the full-scale model.[33]

    The facade of the house, designed by Duchamp-Villon, was not very radical by modern standards; the lintels and pediments had prismatic shapes, but otherwise the facade resembled an ordinary house of the period. The rooms were furnished by Mare with neo-Louis XVI and Louis-Philippe style chairs and sofas that were updated with more angular features to make hem go with the Cubist paintings. The critic Emile Sedeyn described Mare's work in the magazine Art et Décoration: "He does not embarrass himself with simplicity, for he multiplies flowers wherever they can be put. The effect he seeks is obviously one of picturesqueness and gaiety. He achieves it." The Cubist element was provided by the paintings. Despite its tameness, the installation was attacked by some critics as extremely radical, which helped make for its success. This architectural installation was subsequently exhibited at the 1913 Armory Show, New York, Chicago and Boston.[25][36][37][38][39] Thanks largely to the exhibition, the term "Cubist" began to be applied to anything modern, from women's haircuts to clothing to theater performances.

    The Cubist style continued within Art Deco, even as Deco branched out in many other directions. In 1927, Cubists Joseph Csaky, Jacques Lipchitz, Louis Marcoussis, Henri Laurens, the sculptor Gustave Miklos, and others collaborated in the decoration of a Studio House, rue Saint-James, Neuilly-sur-Seine, designed by the architect Paul Ruaud and owned by the French fashion designer Jacques Doucet, also a collector of Post-Impressionist art by Henri Matisse and Cubist paintings (including Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, which he bought directly from Picasso's studio). Laurens designed the fountain, Csaky designed Doucet's staircase,[40] Lipchitz made the fireplace mantel, and Marcoussis made a Cubist rug.[41][42][43]

    Besides the Cubist artists, Doucet brought in other Deco interior designers to help in decorating the house, including Pierre Legrain, who was in charge of organizing the decoration, and Paul Iribe, Marcel Coard, André Groult, Eileen Gray and Rose Adler to provide furniture. The decor included massive pieces made of macassar ebony, inspired by African art, and furniture covered with Morocco leather, crocodile skin and snakeskin, and patterns taken from African designs.


    Art Deco was not a single style, but a collection of different and sometimes contradictory styles. In architecture, Art Deco was the successor to and reaction against Art Nouveau, a style which flourished in Europe between 1895 and 1900, and also gradually replaced the Beaux-Arts and neoclassical that were predominant in European and American architecture. In 1905 Eugène Grasset wrote and published Méthode de Composition Ornementale, Éléments Rectilignes,[45] in which he systematically explored the decorative (ornamental) aspects of geometric elements, forms, motifs and their variations, in contrast with (and as a departure from) the undulating Art Nouveau style of Hector Guimard, so popular in Paris a few years earlier. Grasset stressed the principle that various simple geometric shapes like triangles and squares are the basis of all compositional arrangements. The reinforced concrete buildings of Auguste Perret and Henri Sauvage, and particularly the Theatre des Champs-Elysees, offered a new form of construction and decoration which was copied worldwide.[46]

    In decoration, many different styles were borrowed and used by Art Deco. They included pre-modern art from around the world and observable at the Musée du Louvre, Musée de l'Homme and the Musée national des Arts d'Afrique et d'Océanie. There was also popular interest in archeology due to excavations at Pompeii, Troy, and the tomb of the 18th dynasty Pharaoh Tutankhamun. Artists and designers integrated motifs from ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, Asia, Mesoamerica and Oceania with Machine Age elements.[47][48][49][50][51][52]

    Other styles borrowed included Russian Constructivism and Italian Futurism, as well as Orphism, Functionalism, and Modernism in general.[25][47][54] Art Deco also used the clashing colors and designs of Fauvism, notably in the work of Henri Matisse and André Derain, inspired the designs of art deco textiles, wallpaper, and painted ceramics.[25] It took ideas from the high fashion vocabulary of the period, which featured geometric designs, chevrons, zigzags, and stylized bouquets of flowers. It was influenced by discoveries in Egyptology, and growing interest in the Orient and in African art. From 1925 onwards, it was often inspired by a passion for new machines, such as airships, automobiles and ocean liners, and by 1930 this influence resulted in the style called streamline moderne.

    Style of luxury and modernity[edit]

    • The boudoir of fashion designer Jeanne Lanvin (1922–25) now in the Museum of Decorative Arts, Paris

    • Bath of Jeanne Lanvin, of Sienna marble, with decoration of carved stucco and bronze (1922–25)

    • An Art Deco study by the Paris design firm of Alavoine, now in the Brooklyn Museum (1928–30)

    • The Glass Salon, designed for Suzanne Talbot by Paul Ruaud, with furniture by Eileen Gray (1932)

    Art Deco was associated with both luxury and modernity; it combined very expensive materials and exquisite craftsmanship put into modernistic forms. Nothing was cheap about Art Deco: pieces of furniture included ivory and silver inlays, and pieces of Art Deco jewellry combined diamonds with platinum, jade, and other precious materials. The style was used to decorate the first-class salons of ocean liners, deluxe trains, and skyscrapers. It was used around the world to decorate the great movie palaces of the late 1920s and 1930s. Later, after the Great Depression, the style changed and became more sober.

    A good example of the luxury style of Art Deco is the boudoir of the fashion designer Jeanne Lanvin, designed by Armand-Albert Rateau (1882-1938) made between 1922-25. It was located in her house at 16 rue Barbet de Jouy, in Paris, which was demolished in 1965. The room was reconstructed in the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris. The walls are covered with molded lambris below sculpted bas-reliefs in stucco. The alcove is framed with columns of marble on with bases and a plinth of sculpted wood. The floor is of white and black marble, and in the cabinets decorative objects are displayed against a background of blue silk. Her bathroom had a tub and washstand made of sienna marble, with a wall of carved stucco and bronze fittings.

    By 1928 the style had become more comfortable, with deep leather club chairs. The study designed by the Paris firm of Alavoine for an American businessman in 1928-30, now in the Brooklyn Museum, had a unique American feature. Since it was constructed during Prohibition, when serving alcohol was prohibited, it included a secret bar hidden behind the panels.[57]

    By the 1930s, the style had been somewhat simplified, but it was still extravagant. In 1932 the decorator Paul Ruoud made the Glass Salon for Suzanne Talbot. It featured a serpentine armchair and two tubular armchairs by Eileen Gray, a floor of mat silvered glass slabs, a panel of abstract patterns in silver and black lacquer, and an assortment of animal skins.

    International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts (1925)[edit]

    Main article: International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts

    The event that marked the zenith of the style and gave it its name was the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts which took place in Paris from April to October in 1925. This was officially sponsored by the French government, and covered a site in Paris of 55 acres, running from the Grand Palais on the right bank to Les Invalides on the left bank, and along the banks of the Seine. The Grand Palais, the largest hall in the city, was filled with exhibits of decorative arts from the participating countries. There were 15,000 exhibitors from twenty different countries, including England, Italy, Spain, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, Japan, and the new Soviet Union, though Germany was not invited because of tensions after the war and the United States, misunderstanding the purpose of the exhibit, declined to participate. It was visited by sixteen million people during its seven-month run. The rules of the exhibition required that all work be modern; no historical styles were allowed. The main purpose of the Exhibit was to promote the French manufacturers of luxury furniture, porcelain, glass, metal work, textiles and other decorative products. To further promote the products, all the major Paris department stores and major designers had their own pavilions. The Exposition had a secondary purpose in promoting products from French colonies in Africa and Asia, including ivory and exotic woods.

    The Hôtel du Riche Collectionneur was a popular attraction at the Exposition; it displayed the new furniture designs of Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann, as well as Art Deco fabrics, carpets, and a painting by Jean Dupas. The interior design followed the same principles of symmetry and geometric forms which set it apart from Art Nouveau, and bright colors, fine craftsmanship rare and expensive materials which set it apart from the strict functionality of the Modernist style. While most of the pavilions were lavishly decorated and filled with hand-made luxury furniture, two pavilions, those of the Soviet Union and Pavilion du Nouveau Esprit, built by the magazine of that name run by Le Corbusier, were built in an austere style with plain white walls and no decoration; they were among the earliest examples of modernist architecture.


    American skyscrapers marked the summit of the Art Deco style; they became the tallest and most recognizable modern buildings in the world. They were designed to show the prestige of their builders through their height, their shape, their color, and their dramatic illumination at night.[60] The first New York skyscraper, the Woolworth Building, in a neoclassical style, was completed in 1913, and the American Telephone and Telegraph Building (1924) had ionic and doric columns and a classical Doric hypostyle with a frieze. The American Radiator Building by Raymond Hood (1924) combined Gothic and Deco modern elements in the design of the building. Black brick on the frontage of the building (symbolizing coal) was selected to give an idea of solidity and to give the building a solid mass. Other parts of the facade were covered in gold bricks (symbolizing fire), and the entry was decorated with marble and black mirrors. Another early Art Deco skyscraper was Detroit's Guardian Building, which opened in 1929. Designed by modernist Wirt C. Rowland, the building was the first to employ stainless steel as a decorative element, and the extensive use of colored designs in place of traditional ornaments.

    The New York skyline was radically changed by the Chrysler Building in Manhattan (completed in 1930), designed by William Van Alen. It was a giant seventy-seven floor tall advertisement for Chrysler automobiles. The top was crowned by a stainless steel spire, and was ornamented by deco "gargoyles" in the form of stainless steel radiator cap decorations. The base of the tower, thirty-three stories above the street, was decorated with colorful art deco friezes, and the lobby was decorated with art deco symbols and images expressing modernity.

    The Chrysler Building was followed by the Empire State Building by William F. Lamb (1931) and the RCA Building (now the Comcast Building) in Rockefeller Center, by Raymond Hood (1933) which together completely changed the skyline of New York. The tops of the buildings were decorated with Art Deco crowns and spires covered with stainless steel, and, in the case of the Chrysler building, with Art Deco gargoyles modeled after radiator ornaments, while the entrances and lobbies were lavishly decorated with Art Deco sculpture, ceramics, and design. Similar buildings, though not quite as tall, soon appeared in Chicago and other large American cities. The Chrysler Building was soon surpassed in height by the Empire State Building, in a slightly less lavish Deco style. Rockefeller Center added a new design element: several tall building grouped around an open plaza, with a fountain in the center.

    Late Art Deco[edit]


    The Wall Street Crash in October, 1929 served as the great divide between the 1920s and the 1930s, and between American modernist designs. The distinct moods of the two decades dramatically affected the arts of each.

    The '20s were characterized by a blend of two stylistic influences: the exotic materials and voluptuous interiors found in those "tall buildings that scraped the sky," an influence emanating from France's L'Art Déco elite, and the functional geometry of Zigzag Moderne quickly absorbed from such art movements as French Cubism, Dutch de stijl, Russian Constructivism, Italian Futurism (1) and German Bauhaus. Both strains gave way to the austerity binge of the '30s where sleek finishes, aerodynamic forms, synthetic materials and an infatuation with speed and futuristic elements came to the fore -- the advent of the Streamlined Moderne.

    In a period of only twenty years, from 1920 to 1940, this country produced a body of design work remarkable for its collective daring and ingenuity. Ranking among the finest designs produced in the 20th century, they remain relatively unknown, underappreciated, and virtually unacknowledged by art museums (2). Comprised of works from the Norwest collection, this exhibition provides an opportunity to examine a selection of applied and industrial designs created by many of America's (3) most gifted talents (4) during this twenty-year period.

    It wasn't until 1925, the year the great Paris L'Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et IndustrielsModernes (from which Art Deco derives its name) opened (5) that the now familiar Art Deco style was formally introduced to the world. The French high style was epitomized in the luxurious furnishings of the artistes-decorateurs who were to have a tremendous influence on American interiors, finding ultimate expression in the extravagant spaces of Radio City Music Hall designed by Donald Deskey. The rich decors of the skyscraper and highrise apartments provided the necessary commissions for America's new breed of designers(6). Paul Frankl developed a complete line of Skyscraper furniture and others such as Norman Bel Geddes produced Skyscraper cocktail sets. Justly so. There was a pervasive air of escape from pre-World War I constraints in what is variously described as the Cocktail Age, the Jazz Age and the Roaring Twenties. At the least, it was the dawn of a new morality. The stock market crash soon put a decisive end to the indulgence.

    Realizing their products were more marketable when they differed from similar consumer goods, American manufacturers turned to design as an important solution. The designer's attempt to modernize these products as a means of boosting sales led to the pursuit of a new style, one which evolved from the preceding fashionable Art Deco style of the 1920s and could be applied to industrial products especially. Whereas the skyscraper had inspired an angular, setback style (generally described as Zigzag Moderne) that expressed the 1920's unbridled entrepreneurship, it was unsuited to the sober economic mood that followed the Crash in 1929. An authentic new image was needed to unify industry and to propel it out of economic stagnation. The image that answered this need was the streamlined form. Based on sound aerodynamic principles, it came to symbolize industrial progress. The optimum streamline form became that of the teardrop, or parabolic curve, providing an image of fluid, energy-efficient motion (7).

    Little attempt was made to distinguish between functional and non-functional streamlining. Whether moving or stationary, products were cased in sleek, aerodynamic bodies, emblematic of the 1930s obsession with speed and efficiency. At most speeds streamlined styling did not, in fact, save much energy and, in stationary objects, it saved none at all. These were secondary considerations as the style came to represent an embracement of the machine and the hope that it held for the future.

    The roots of the Streamlined Moderne lie also in an infautation with science-fiction. Utopian visions were provided by scores of illustrators for magazines, comic books and Hollywood film sets. The serial Buck Rogers began in 1930 and Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon appeared four years later. In H.G. Wells' 1936 film version of Things to Come, montage and photoraphy were combined with state-of-the-art moderne model sets. The futuristic cities painted for Amazing Stories and other "pulps" variously anticipate or reflect the advanced designs of Buckminister Fuller, Walter Dorwin Teague and other piorneering designers of the thirties. Four American expositions, all in the 1930s, also had a significant impact on design awareness. Of the four, Chicago's Century of Progress Exposition in l933-34 had the greatest mass appeal and likely did more to advance the cause of design in America. It drew 38 million visitors to the 424-acre parcel of reclaimed land on the edge of Lake Michigan and turned a handsome profit at the depth of the Depression. It is difficult to appreciate the excitement, even euphoria, surrounding such an event, but it provided a welcome relief from unrelenting financial woes with a glimpse into a utopian future.

    In retrospect, the designs of the l920s are best remembered for lavish interiors, angular designs, an emerging machine aesthetic, an avoidance of both ornament and organic forms, and a cerebral approach rationalized through mathmatics. In contrast, the new breed of industrial designers in the l930s were more open to the suggestions of science and practical technologies, but were less restricted by aethetic traditions. They must be credited with tempering rational engineering with the artis's quest for perfected form. In the following decade the steady evolution of design was interrupted by the second World War which created an enormous demand for products in which performance was the crucial requirement. After the war, products reappeared that vaguely resembled designs of the l930s, but only as a superficial application, for styling had replaced design. American dominance in design would gradually yield to the Italians, Swedes and Japanese.

    David Ryan
    Director, Arts Program, Norwest Corporation
    Adjunct Curator of Design, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts

    1) The first movement (1909-1915) to explore the notion of speed. Its manifesto is perhaps best captured in Filippo Marinetti's (poet, dramatist, mountebank) sassy pronouncement in Le Figaro, ..."a new beauty ... a roaring motorcar which runs like a machinegun is more beautiful than the Winged Victory of Samothrace." (Back)

    2) Only a few institutions in this country have collections focusing on the applied arts, and, within most art museums, the decorative arts has long been subordinated to the fine arts (painting, sculpture and graphics). In terms of 20th-century design, the situation is especially unresolved. Unlike European coun- terparts, only a handfull of American museums have even begun to think seriously about the formation of comprehsnive applied arts collections, even though the last hundred years has constituted one of the greatest periods of accomplishment in the history of Western design. (Back)

    3) Although it may be correct to describe these works as American-designed, it is perhaps misleading. Nearly half of those artists represented in this exhibition were immigrants, though all but one (Erik Magnussen who returned to Denmark) eventually became naturalized American citizens. The experience and traditions they brought to this country had a tremendous impact on the quality and direction of American product design. (Back)

    4) A group of artists, designers, architects and photographers, encouraged by the energetic Viennese emigré Paul Frankl, formed the American Union of Decorative Artists and Craftsmen (known as AUDAC) in 1928. Its membership ultimately grew to over 120 and included most of the designers represented in this exhibition. (Back)

    5) The Exposition was to have taken place several years prior to l925, but was delayed by the World War. It's stated purpose was the creation of "an alliance between art and industry." Although the United States did not participate, it became the one country that would take this dictum beyond anyone's dream. (Back)

    6) The one personality who most perfectly summed up Moderne architecture of the '20s and forecast the streamlining of the next decade was the delineator Hugh Ferriss. His book, The Metropolis of Tomorrow (1929) portrayed the multideck city ( a harbinger of the Minneapolis skyway system) similiar both to earlier Sant' Elia schematics and to the futuristic cities of science fiction and the comic strip. Ferriss mentions with pride (p.50), that there were 377 skyscrapers in the United States by early 1929 and 188 of these were in New York.

    7) The "teardrop," rounded at the front and tapered at the rear, approximates the low resistance forms of Zeppelins, submarines and other streamlined vehicles. Rolling down a cheek, a tear does assume that form; a falling drop does not. The two were confused throughout the l930s.


    Back to Brochures



    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *