April 25: Deco Mecca
2016/04/25 § 1 Comment
On this day in 1925 the Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes opened in Paris.
Of all the world’s exhibitions, this one may have been the best (but Clio would love to hear your arguments to the contrary). 1851 London gets certain props for being the first one out of the gates and for its Paxton-designed building that revolutionized construction process (if not architectural design); likewise, 1899 Paris made great strides in construction technology, offering up the world’s tallest structure and its broadest open interior.
But 1925 Paris was the one that was, frankly, the most gorgeous, and the most stylistically diverse. Decades later the glitzy, elegant, jazzy version of Classicism that the Exposition inaugurated would take a name derived as a shorthand version of the event itself: the style of des arts décoratifs was, of course, Art Deco. The (sadly temporary) buildings were designed in a new manner that showcased Classicism’s ability to adapt to changing tastes. They also housed decorative arts that were extraordinary examples of the “new” movement’s aims toward sleek, linear forms fused with exotic motifs (Aztec and Egyptian, most prominently) and featuring luxury materials. This contemporary art form grew from traditional roots, flowering as art and architecture that is at once grounded, recognizable, legible, exciting, modern. Have a hankie ready, and stroll through some of Clio’s souvenirs: baubles by Van Cleef & Arpels, Cartier and Chaumet; knickknacks by Rapin, Joseph Bernard, and Baccarat; a favorite chair by Leleu that stands by the Dunand screen; the Christofle pot from which she pours her elegant daily brew.
Immediately the Exposition soared to prominence in Europe and America, but Art Deco’s brilliant, stylized wings were clipped by the impending financial doom of the 1930s (somewhat presaged by other entries at the fair, like this by some optimistic Russians), not to mention the growing popularity among small circles of architects who never got along with Clio (in spite of all I’ve done for them!), who instead came under the spell of a Swiss immigrant who set up his defiantly un-Deco pavilion in a corner of the Expo grounds. What is it, a hot dog stand? bathroom shack? car repair shop? It may be “Nouveau,” Monsieur Buzzkill, but we prefer l’essence de Déco to your L’Esprit.
Image: La Maîtrise Pavillon for Galeries Lafayette (from this source)