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When Art Deco Became Known To The World

Updated: Feb 5

The best French Art Deco architecture was designed for the 1925 International Exposition and was destined to last only six months. The fact that the entire site would be razed on the Exposition's closure stimulated experimentation with radical architectural forms and untried materials.

The term 'Art Deco' was invented in the 1960s with Bevis Hillier's book, almost 40 years after the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts held in Paris in 1925 where the style first gained popularity. Not known to many people, the existence of Art Deco dates back to even before 1925 when there was no official term to recognise it.
Art Deco was first used to contrast French decorative arts seen at the exposition with other strains of modern design associated with the Bauhaus, De Stiijl, and L'Esprit Nouveau. As Bevis Hillier (an English art historian, author and journalist) and others debated what constituted 'Art Deco', in essence was another interwar idiom besides the Modernism captured in art and architecture histories.

Art Deco was seen in consolidation for the first time at the above mentioned international expo in Paris and managed to enamour various parts of the world with its ornamental, geometric and eccentric colour palette. This was the first time (that too after the first world war) that artisans, artists, decorators, designers, manufacturers and architects were invited to showcase experimental, radical designs exploring original ideas and usage of new materials. An attempt for art and design to re-energise the spirits of the citizens and also discover newer trends which resonated much more with the spirit of modernity that everyone was already embracing or getting ready for.

Art Deco has successfully been able to capture the essence (both visual and material) of various art movements preceding it, namely Art Nouveau (ornamental elements drawn from its organic and sinuous forms ), De Stijl (the concept of lines), the Bauhaus (the use of basic shapes), Cubism (abstraction and overlapping for shapes), Fauvism (the idea of combining intense colours), decorative concepts from American Indian, Egyptian and Classical resources, influence from Middle East and Asia and Ancient Egypt since Tutankhamuns' tomb and its treasures had been discovered in 1922.

Art Deco can be seen in the breadth of its key motifs and forms drawn from nature and machines as well as different regions, cultures and historical periods. Everything from stylised waterfalls and sleek locomotives to Egyptian lotuses and Mesoamerican ziggurats were rendered in an overarching Art Deco idiom readily recognised by its symmetrically streamlined classicism, pale stepped-back surfaces, shallow reliefs and dramatic ornamental flourishes

Through the lens of Art Deco, it was easier to see the interesting relationships between various disciplines of design, which are otherwise seen very categorically distinct from each other. Art Deco played a significant role in creating a holistic category for including multiple aspects of design be it fashion, architecture, interiors, furniture, advertising to feed into each other more seamlessly. Even the selection of materials to create these objects or spaces were either drawn from each other or taken inspiration from in terms of the finish, the overall theme, colour schemes and the graphics. Art Deco as a style has managed to intersperse in everything ranging from buildings to interiors to furniture to everyday objects to bold graphics in posters to becoming a mode for expression for people from all kinds of class, background gradually spreading to all parts of the world.

Graphic Arts, Fashion, Industrial Design and Hollywood stage sets joined rarified craft production, architecture and even sculpture and painting, to depict a self-consciously modern movement in design that looked to both past and future, local and elsewhere, for inspiration. Art Deco became the category for artists and designers who had been left out of modern historiographies.

This makes for an interesting study of Art Deco's role in defining modern architecture responding to the current conditions and leaving enough room for experimentation for the foreseeable future at the same time.

Art Deco, which was known under numerous titles from art moderne and modernistic to zig-zag and streamline, is an umbrella term for stylishly modern trends in design that responded to the unique circumstances of early-to-mid-twentieth-century modernity.


Text :

Duncan A 1988, Art Deco (World of Art), Thames and Hudson, Singapore, p.175

Elliot B, Windover M 2019, The Routledge Companion to Art Deco, Routledge 1st Edition, Oxfordshire, U.K., p.1934, 1935

Images :

AD Classics: Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes / Various Architects

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