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A movement in the decorative arts: Art Deco

Art Deco (1920-1940) also known as style moderne, was a movement in the decorative arts and architecture that originated in the 1920s and developed into a major style in western Europe and the United States during the 1930s. Its name is short for Arts Decoratifs, where it was officially introduced for the first time in 1925 at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes. However, the diverse styles of Art Deco had already appeared in Paris and Brussels before World War I. Art Deco influenced the design of buildings, furniture, jewelry, fashion, cars, movie theatres, trains, ocean liners, and everyday objects such as radios and vacuum cleaners.

Art Deco works are symmetrical, geometric, streamlined, often simple, and pleasing to the eye. Art Deco buildings feature distinctive smooth finish building materials such as stucco, concrete block, glazed brick or mosaic tile. Art Deco was influenced by the bold geometric forms of Cubism along with De Stijl and Futurism. During the 1930s, the style took over South Beach in Miami, Florida which produced an area known as the Art Deco historic district. Although the style went out of fashion in most places during World War II, there was a renewed interest in Art Deco design in the late 1960s. In the 21st century, Art Deco continues to be a source of inspiration in areas such as fashion and jewelry design.

Art Deco was not a single style, but a collection of many different styles. It relied on bold designs, clear lines, vibrant colors, and patterns. Geometric shapes and intense color schemes are prominent with the main characteristics coming from the various painting styles of the early twentieth century. Influences on Art Deco were Art Nouveau, the Bauhaus, Cubism, and Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Decorative ideas came from American Indians, Egyptians, and as well from nature. Art Deco design represented modernism which later turned into fashion. Its products included both individually crafted luxury items and mass-produced wares. The intention was to create a sleek elegance that symbolized wealth and sophistication.

There are many characteristics to identify a building as Art Deco. Some characteristics would be rectangular blocky forms arranged in geometric fashion that include curved ornamental elements. Other characteristics are a smooth wall surface, sharp edges, and linear appearances. The use of stylized elements using geometrical forms such as zigzags, chevrons, and strips of windows with decorative spandrels are also significantly used. New York City’s Rockefeller Center by Donald Deskey, the Chrysler Building by William Van Alen, and the Empire State Building by Shreve, Lamb, & Harmon are the most monumental examples of Art Deco. Art Deco has truly influenced architecture and culture as a whole in the past, present, and future.

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