While we tend to think of art deco primarily in terms of architecture or interior design, the 1930s art moment had a much bigger impact than on just those two art genres. The evolution of what we think of as 1930s art deco began as far back as 1925. But this phase of art history lasted close to 15 years, which is phenomenal in light of the shelf life of current modern art movements.
1930s art deco actually is a composite of some of the most well known art styles that were used in decorative art of the 1920s and the 1930s. It was the painting styles of Cubism, Art Nouveau, futurism, neoclassical and constructivism that all played a part in the evolution of what we now identify as 1930s art deco designs. And like all great art movements of every century, art deco had a dramatic impact on every form of artistic expression from painting to film making to architecture to fashion design to interior decorating. In that way an art movement that was born in the 1920s and came to full expression in the 1930s has gone on to influence artistic people of all subsequent generations down to this day.
It is good trivia to know where the term “art deco” that we so strongly associate with 1930s art came from. The actual term was invented way back in 1925 at an art exposition in Paris called the ‘Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes,’ Some of the cream of the crop of avant-garde of French artists were there including Emily Decour, Eugene Grasset, Maurice Dufrene and Raoul Lachenal.
These artists were staging the show to showcase this new genre that put more focus on the individuality of the artist and an art genre that spanned mediums. It was interesting that while the art style on display that day was what would become art deco, the title didn’t really “stick” until 1968 when Bevis Hiller used the term in an art history book he had written about 1930s art movements in connection with an exhibition in at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts entitled “Art Deco”.
What 1930s artists created was a style of art that was identifiable by its use of simple shapes combined with striking color and abstraction to suggest many very old artistic styles from Egypt, Africa and even the Aztecs. The combination of something very new and modern with older artistic means of expression is one reason 1930s art deco became and has continued to be a very popular artistic form.
It is no accident that art deco took off in the 1930s. This was an age of tremendous innovation in manufacturing of products using enamels, plastics, unique types of glass and even decorative concrete. Machine production of these modern materials for architecture and interior design inspired 1930s artists to use these very new materials to take the avant-garde art movement of art deco and apply it to every kind of artistic expression imaginable. 1930s artists worked without restraint in bringing to their art works even more exotic materials such as stainless steel, sharkskin, aluminum and inlaid wood. The outcome was always breath taking and the highly creative products that came out of 1930s art shows caused the art deco movement to take off.
We have some highly recognizable public spaces that reflect the 1930s art deco style as a legacy from this amazing time in art history. Those reminders include the Empire State Building, the Chrysler building and the Strand Hotel in London. In the late 1930s and moving into the 1940s, art deco declined in popularity and influence. But the themes of 1930s art deco continued to influence future art movements and art deco itself continued to enjoy revivals with each new generation of artists that came along to discover it and put their own brand of creativity and originality into what seems to be the ageless artistic style of art deco.