Art Deco flourished internationally in the inter-war years; predominantly in architecture but it also influenced the fine and applied arts . Art Deco was a modernisation of many artistic styles and themes from the past; it began as the Modernist follow-up style on Art Nouveau but was much more simplified and closer to mass production. The 1920’s marked a progressive era in America; an era of prosperity, promise and modernity – this bold era required bold ideas.
Early Art Deco buildings were defined with earlier neo-classical styles onto which were applied exotic motifs such as flora and fauna, fountains and chevrons arranged in geometric patterns. Society was reacting against the rigid austerity that the First World War had enforced, people now demanded opulence, lavishness and profligacy and Art Deco gave it to them. Symbols of a brave new era – the Golden Gate Bridge, cinema theatres, train stations, ocean liners, the Barclay-Vesey building – all were draped in Art Deco. Novel materials such as aluminium and stainless steel were in vogue and were applied in sweeping curves, chevron patterns and sunburst motifs. Streamline Moderne was a parallel movement which was influenced by modern aerodynamic designs which were emerging from advancing technologies in aviation and ballistics.
Art Deco adopted some of these designs, applying stream-lining technologies to every day objects such as automobiles and refrigerators. Art Deco began to fall out of favour when it became ubiquitous and was derided as gaudy and presenting a lame image of luxury. Some of the finest surviving examples of Art Deco architecture are to be found in Cuba, Brazil, Uruguay and in some parts of America such as Florida; Tulsa, Oklahoma and Houston, Texas. Other unique areas include Napier, New Zealand where the whole town was re-built in Art Deco style after an earthquake devastated the town in 1931 and Asmara, Eritrea, where the Italians built many buildings in Art Deco style during their colonial reign.
by Russell Shortt