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Art Deco movement: the cornerstone of modern art

‘Art Deco’ was a dominant international design movement, spanning fourteen years, from 1925 to 1939. It played a crucial role in the development and progression of modern art. The Deco Movement incorporated a mixture of the different styles of modern decorative art, much of it from the 1920s and 1930s. These styles were those derived from various avant-garde pictorial philosophies of the 20th century, including ‘Neoclassical’, ‘Constructivism’, ‘Cubism’, ‘Modernism’, ‘Art Nouveau’ and ‘Futurism’. The Deco movement influenced various decorative arts, including architecture, interior design, industrial design, and visual art forms such as fashion, painting, graphic arts, and film.

The term ‘Art Deco’ was coined at an exhibition, ‘Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes’, held in Paris, in the year 1925. The exhibition was organized by some French artists to promote the creation of a new genre of art, adapted to contemporary lifestyle, a distinct sense of individuality and fine workmanship. The organizers of this exhibition were the members of the society, ‘La Societe des artistes decoreurs’, including Hector Guinmard, Eugene Grasset, Raoul Lachenal, Paul Follot, Maurice Dufrene and Emily Decor. However, the term ‘Art Deco’ gained widespread recognition only in the year 1968, when art historian Bevis Hiller published his popular book, ‘Art Deco of the 20s and 30s’, and organized an exhibition, ‘Art Deco’, at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

This movement was distinguished by its abstraction, manipulation, and simplification of defined geometric shapes and vivid use of color. Bold color schemes and melting curves were the focal points of the true ‘Deco’ creations. The so-called ‘ancient arts’ of Africa, Ancient Egypt and Aztec Mexico prominently inspired this movement. In the age of machines and aerodynamic technology, the use of materials, such as plastics, enamels, hardened concrete and an unusual type of glass, ‘vita glass’, greatly affected the movement. There is sufficient evidence to indicate the use of materials, such as aluminium, stainless steel, lacquer, inlaid wood, along with exotic materials, such as zebra and shark skin.

The Empire State Building, famous for its pyramid structure, and the Chrysler Building, known for its multi-arched dome, are living examples of the ‘Deco’ style. The movement even described the fashion industry of Paris in the 1920s. Dresses sported large chrome buttons, head-hugging cloche hats with huge fur collars, dangling earrings and so-called ‘bob hairstyles’, all of which represented a completely new and revolutionary look. The BBC building in Portland Place and the basement of the Strand Palace Hotel, London, are examples of the pure ‘Art Deco’ style. The popularity of this movement took a beating in the late 1930s and 1940s, but it regained its lost luster with the rise of “graphic design” in the 1980s.

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