Art Deco

Like Art Nouveau 25 years earlier, Art Deco ruled between the two World Wars. It had a very distinctive style: sunbursts, undulating lines, airbrushing. Many countries and people adopted the movement: Germans and Italian fascists, French communists, Spanish leftists and British socialists. Art Deco combined new minimalism with old decorative designs of Art Nouveau. Art Deco was in everything: architecture, furniture, clothing and graphic design. It stood for an elegant, contemporary way of life. It’s hard to imagine any style dominating for that long so persuasively in today’s society. Now, we have access to virtually every style, and consumers and designers alike cherry pick and integrate what they want. Then move on to the next look, instantly. We chew up and spit out culture and style.

In America, the style was also called Jazz Modern or Zig Zag. Instead of simplicity, designers wanted opulence. The country was in the middle of great depression, but Art Deco was luxurious. Icons were sleek dogs, pyramids, obelisks (opening of King Tut’s tomb marked interest in Egyptian art), lightning bolts and sunrays. Architectural examples: Empire State Building and (especially) the Chrysler Building.

Streamline: Industrial designers and graphic designers made everything aerodynamic. The 1933 World’s Fairin Chicago was themed “A Century of Progress” and New York’s 1939-40 World’s Fair was “The World of Tomorrow.”

1929: French designer A. Tollmer published the guide to Art Deco layout called Mise en Page. It became more far-reaching than Jan Tschichold’s New Typography, published the year before. However, it has the same Modernist roots as New Typography. Art Deco was pervasive, almost overexposed. In France, it was prevalent at the 1925 International Exhibition in Paris, where art triumphed over industry. In Germany, Art Deco’s angularity and geometric shapes were a natural for the country that spawned Bauhaus.

In Switzerland, one of the leaders was Herbert Matter. Matter studied with Fernand Leger in Paris. He gained early notice with his posters for the Swiss National Tourist Office. These works combined type and photomontage — Constructivism! He scampered to the U.S. during W.W. II and found work for publications, Knoll Furniture and other clients. He also taught photography and graphic arts at Yale for thirty years. He retained his European roots and spent many years photographing the work of artists whom he admired, like Calder.

Spanish Art Deco was present in posters for wine, theatre, cars and travel, performances and the Spanish Civil War. It was called Deco Espana.

Italian Art Deco artists were practically a division of Mussolini’s propaganda machine.

In England, Frank Pick was a big player. He redesigned the London Underground (Tube, or subway) map and commissioned a sans serif alphabet that was co-opted by Modernists around the world. He brought in a lot of famous artists, like Man Ray, to do work for him.

Three graphic designers from Russia showed how design worked in the marketplace. They led the way in the 1940s in opening new doors in graphic communication. In the 1930s, a young Russian-Turkish artist named Dr. Agha was made art director of Vogue and Vanity Fair. Agha was an artist, photographer and typographer educated in czarist Russia. Alexey Brodovitch, another Russian artist, fought with the czar’s Imperial Hussars in WWI. He became a set builde,  then art director of Harper’s Bazaar. A.M. Cassandre, a Frenchie raised in Ukraine, changed poster design. Cassandre was frequently commissioned by Brodovitch to do covers for Harper’s Bazaar. A.M. Cassandre, a Frenchie raised in Ukraine, changed poster design. He showed an serious cubist influence. Cassandre was frequently commissioned by Brodovitch to do covers for Harper’s Bazaar.In America, the style was also called Jazz Modern or Zig Zag. Instead of simplicity, designers wanted opulence. The country was in the middle of great depression, but Art Deco was luxurious. Icons were sleek dogs, pyramids, obelisks (opening of King Tut’s tomb marked interest in Egyptian art), lightning bolts and sunrays. Architectural examples: Empire State Building and (especially) Chrysler Building.

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