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Art Deco was a popular international art design movement from 1925 until the 1940s, affecting the decorative arts such as architecture, interior design, and industrial design, as well as the visual arts such as fashion, painting, the graphic arts, and film. At the time, this style was seen as elegant, glamorous, functional, and modern.

The movement was a mixture of many different styles and movements of the early 20th century, including Neoclassical, Constructivism, Cubism, Modernism, Art Nouveau, and Futurism. Its popularity peaked in Europe during the Roaring Twenties and continued strongly in the United States through the 1930s. Although many design movements have political or philosophical roots or intentions, Art Deco was purely decorative.

Art Deco experienced a decline in popularity during the late 30s and early 40s, and soon fell out of public favor. It experienced a resurgence with the popularization of graphic design in the 1980s. Art Deco had a profound influence on many later artistic movements, such as Memphis and Pop art.

Surviving examples may still be seen in many different locations worldwide, in countries as diverse as the United Kingdommarker, Spainmarker, Cubamarker, Indonesiamarker, the Philippinesmarker, Argentinamarker, Romaniamarker, Australia, New Zealandmarker, Indiamarker and Brazilmarker. Many classic examples still exist in the form of architecture in many major cities. The Empire State Buildingmarker and Chrysler Buildingmarker, both in New York Citymarker, are two of the largest and best-known examples of the style.


After the Universal Exposition of 1900, various French artists formed an informal collective known as, La Société des artistes décorateurs (the society of the decorator artists). Founders included Hector Guimard, Eugène Grasset, Raoul Lachenal, Paul Bellot, Maurice Dufrêne, and Emile Decoeur. These artists heavily influenced the principles of Art Deco as a whole. This society's purpose was to demonstrate French decorative art's leading position and evolution internationally. They organized the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Art) in Paris, which would feature French art and business interests. The terms Style Moderne and Art Deco both derive from the exposition's title, though Art Deco was not widely used until popularized by art historian Bevis Hillier's 1968 book Art Deco of the 20s and 30s.

In the summer of 1969, Hillier conceived organizing an exhibition called Art Deco at the Minneapolis Institute of Artsmarker, which took place from July to September 1971. After this event, interest in Art Deco peaked with the publication of his 1971 book The World of Art Deco, a record of the exhibition.


The structure of Art Deco is based on mathematical geometric shapes. It was widely considered to be an eclectic form of elegant and stylish modernism, being influenced by a variety of sources. Among them were the so-called "primitive" arts of Africa, as well as historical styles such as Greco-Roman Classicism, and the art of Babylonmarker, Assyria, Ancient Egypt, and Aztec Mexico. Much of this could be attributed to the popular interest in archeology in the 1920s (eg, the tomb of Tutankhamun, Pompeiimarker, the lost city of Troymarker, etc). Art Deco also drew on Machine Age and streamline technologies such as modern aviation, electric lighting, the radio, the ocean liner and the skyscraper for inspiration. Streamline Moderne was the final interwar-period development, which most thoroughly manifests technology and has been rated by some commentators as a separate architectural style.

Art Deco design influences were expressed in the crystalline and faceted forms of decorative Cubism and Futurism. Other popular themes in Art Deco were trapezoidal, zigzagged, geometric, and jumbled shapes, which can be seen in many early pieces. Two great examples of these themes and styles are in Detroitmarker, Michiganmarker: the Fisher Buildingmarker and the Guardian Buildingmarker.


Art Deco was an opulent style, and its lavishness is attributed to reaction to the forced austerity imposed by World War I. Its rich, festive character fitted it for "modern" contexts, including the Golden Gate Bridgemarker, interiors of cinema theaters (a prime example being the Paramount Theatermarker in Oaklandmarker, Californiamarker) and ocean liners such as the Île de France, Queen Marymarker, and Normandie. Art Deco was employed extensively throughout the United States' train stations in the 1930s, designed to reflect the modernity and efficiency of the train.Art Deco made use of many distinctive styles, but one of the most significant of its features was its dependence upon a range of ornaments and motif. The style is said to have reflected the tensions in the cultural politics of its day, with eclecticism having been one of its defining features. In the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, the distinctive style of Art Deco was shaped by 'all the nervous energy stored up and expended in the War'. Art Deco has been influenced in part by movements such as Cubism, Russian Constructivism and Italian Futurism, which 'are all evident in Art Deco decorative arts'.

Materials and design

Art Deco is characterized by use of materials such as aluminum, stainless steel, lacquer and inlaid wood. Exotic materials such as sharkskin (shagreen), and zebraskin were also in evidence. The bold use of stepped forms and sweeping curves (unlike the sinuous, natural curves of the Art Nouveau), chevron patterns, and the sunburst motif are typical of Art Deco. Some of these motifs were ubiquitous — for example, sunburst motifs were used in such varied contexts as ladies' shoes, radiator grilles, the auditorium of the Radio City Music Hallmarker, and the spire of the Chrysler Buildingmarker.

Streamline Moderne

A parallel movement called Streamline Moderne, or simply Streamline, followed close behind. Streamline was influenced by the modern aerodynamic designs, including those emerging from advancing technologies in aviation, ballistics, and other fields requiring high velocity. The attractive shapes resulting from scientifically applied aerodynamic principles were enthusiastically adopted within Art Deco, applying streamlining techniques to other useful objects in everyday life, such as the automobile. Although the beauty of the functional design, not tacked on ornamentation, of the Chrysler Airflow design of 1933 was commercially unsuccessful, it provided the lead for more conservatively designed pseudo-streamlined vehicles.

Streamlining quickly influenced American and European automobile design and changed the look from the rectangular "horseless" carriages into sleek vehicles with sweeping lines, symmetry, and V-shapes that added to their mystique of speed and efficiency. Nash Motors introduced the modern fully-unitized body (monocoque) design for the low-price market in 1941 that featured fastback “Slipstream” models with high prow-like hoods, and Art Deco "speed lines" in sweeping chrome grilles and parallel bar trim. These aerodynamic-looking designs were applied by automakers and continued to be popular in the sellers' market after World War II. These "streamlined" forms began to be used in the design of mundane and static objects such as pencil sharpeners, refrigerators, and gas pumps.

Art Deco celebrates the Machine Age through explicit use of man-made materials (particularly glass and stainless steel), symmetry, and repetition, modified by Asian influences such as the use of silks and Middle Eastern designs. It was strongly adopted in the United States during the Great Depression for its practicality and simplicity, while still portraying a reminder of better times and the "American Dream".

Decline and resurgence

Art Deco slowly lost patronage in the West after reaching mass production, when it began to be derided as gaudy and presenting a false image of luxury. Eventually, the style was cut short by the austerities of World War II. Before destruction in World War II, Manilamarker possessed many Art Deco buildings; a legacy of the American colonial past. A resurgence of interest in Art Deco came first in the 1960s, and then again in the 1980s with the growing interest in graphic design, where its association with film noir and 1930s glamour led to its use in advertisements for jewelry and fashion.

Surviving examples

Some of the finest surviving examples of Art Deco art and architecture are found in Cubamarker, especially in Havanamarker. The Bacardi Building is noted for its particular style, which echoes the classic themes of Art Deco. The style is expressed in the architecture of residences, businesses, hotels, and many pieces of decorative art, furniture, and utensils in public buildings, as well as in private homes.

Another country with many examples of rich Art Deco architecture is Brazilmarker, especially in Goiâniamarker and cities like Cipó (Bahia), Iraímarker (Rio Grande do Sul) and Rio de Janeiromarker, especially in Copacabanamarker. Also in the Brazilian Northeast — notably in countryside cities, such as Campina Grandemarker in the state of Paraibamarker — there is a noticeable group of Art Deco buildings, which has been called “Sertanejo Art Deco” because of its peculiar architectural features. The reason for the style being so widespread in Brazil is its coincidence with the fast growth and radical economic changes of the country during 1930-1940. Art deco buildings are also numerous in Montevideomarker, Uruguaymarker, including the iconic Palacio Salvomarker, which was South America's tallest building when it was built in the late 1920s.
Fair Parkmarker, located in Dallas, TX, stands as one of the largest collections of Art Deco structures. Much of the Art Deco heritage of Tulsamarker, Oklahomamarker remains from that city's oil boom days. Houstonmarker, Texasmarker has some surviving buildings, such as the Houston City Hall, the JPMorgan Chase Buildingmarker and the 1940 Air Terminal Museummarker, though many are threatened by modern development. In Beaumontmarker, the Jefferson County Courthousemarker, built in 1931, is one of the few Art Deco buildings still standing.

Napiermarker, New Zealandmarker, was rebuilt in the Art Deco style after being largely razed by the Hawke's Bay earthquakemarker of 3 February 1931. Although a few Art Deco buildings were replaced with contemporary structures during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, most of the centre remained intact for long enough to become recognized as architecturally unique, and from the 1990s onwards had been protected and restored. As of 2007, Napier has been nominated for UNESCO World Heritage Site status, the first cultural site in New Zealand to be nominated.

In London, the former Arsenal Stadiummarker boasts the famous East Stand facade. It remains at the football club's old home at Highburymarker, London Borough of Islingtonmarker, which was vacated in the summer of 2006. Opened in October 1936, the structure now has Grade II listed status and has been converted into flats. William Bennie, the man behind the project, famously used the Art Deco style in the final design which was seen as one of the most opulent and impressive stands in world football. The London Underground is also famous for many examples of Art Deco architecture .

Art deco in India
Mumbaimarker, Indiamarker has the second largest number of Art Deco buildings in the world after Miamimarker.

In Chinamarker, at least sixty Art Deco buildings designed by Hungarian architect Laszlo Hudec survive in downtown Shanghai.

Kansas City is home to the Kansas City Power and Light Buildingmarker which completed construction in 1931. This building serves as a great example of the Great Depression and its effect on Art Deco construction. Original plans called for a twin tower to be built next to it on its west side. However, it was never built due to financial constraints. As a result, the 476 foot tower has a bare west side, with no windows. Other examples of Art Deco buildings in Kansas City include Municipal Auditorium marker, the Jackson County Courthouse marker, Kansas City City Hallmarker; and 909 Walnutmarker.

Cincinnati, Ohiomarker houses the Cincinnati Union Terminalmarker, an Art Deco style passenger railroad station that opened in 1933. After the decline of railroad travel, most of the building was converted to other uses. It now serves as the Cincinnati Museum Center, which welcomes more than one million visitors per year and is the 17th most visited museum in the United States.

In Indonesiamarker, the largest stock of Dutch East Indiesmarker era buildings are in the large cities of Javamarker. Bandungmarker is of particular note with one of the largest remaining collections of 1920s Art Deco buildings in the world, with the notable work of several Dutch architects and planners, including Albert Aalbers that added the expressionist architecture style to the Art Deco by designing the DENIS bank (1936) and renovated the Savoy Homann Hotel (1939), Thomas Karsten, Henri Maclaine-Pont, J Gerber and C.P.W. Schoemaker. The Nederlandsche Handel Maatschappij building (1929), now Museum Bank Mandiri, by J de Bryun, AP Smiths, and C Van de Linde, and right across it, the Jakarta Kota Stationmarker (1929) designed by Frans Johan Louwrens Ghijsels, are the surviving Art Deco buildings in Jakartamarker.

The Manila Metropolitan Theater located along P.Burgos Street in Manilamarker is one of the few existing art deco buildings in the Philippines.

Valencia, Spainmarker built profusely in Art Deco style during the period of economic bounty between wars in which Spain remained neutral. Particularly remarkable are the famous bath house Las Arenas, the building hosting the Rectorship of the University of Valenciamarker and the cinemas Rialto (currently the Filmoteca de la Generalitat Valenciana), Capitol (reconverted into an office building) and Metropol.

Africa's most celebrated examples of art deco were built in Eritreamarker during Italian rule. Many buildings survive in Asmaramarker, the capital, and elsewhere. Also there are many buildings in downtown Casablanca, Morocco's economic capital.

Finally, one of the most famous surviving examples of the Art Deco style is the famous RMS Queen Marymarker, which is currently moored in retirement in Long Beach, Californiamarker as a floating museum and hotel, a true lasting reminder to the past glory of the once numerous trans-Atlantic ocean liners, and to the Art Deco period.

The popular video game "Bioshock", released in 2007, exhibits art deco style throughout its underwater setting. "Rapture" was constructed in the 1940's hence the style in question was highly influential in the cities design.


The distinctive style of Art Deco has been echoed in many similar movements since its early decline. Art Deco influenced later styles such as Memphis and the Pop art movement. It also had an effect on post modern architecture and styles, even through to the late 1970s. Art Deco has also had a marked influence on contemporary design.

House design in the United Kingdom

During the 1930s, Art Deco had a noticeable influence on house design in the United Kingdom, as well as the design of various public buildings. Straight, white-rendered house frontages rising to flat roofs, sharply geometric door surrounds and tall windows, as well as convex curved metal corner windows, were all characteristic of that period.

See also


  2. Scarlett and Townley, Arts Décoratifs 1925: A Personal Recollection of the Paris Exhibition, Academy Editions, London, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1975
  3. "Curves of Steel: Streamlined Automobile Design" Phoenix Art Museum 2008, retrieved on 2009-06-02.
  4. “1941-1948 Nash Ambassador” by the Auto Editors of ‘’Consumer Guide’’ 2007-09-27, retrieved on 2009-06-02.
  5. “1947-1948 Nash” by the Auto Editors of ‘’Consumer Guide’’ 2007-09-27, retrieved on 2009-06-02.
  7. Napier Earthquake


  • Applegate, Judith. Intro. by Elayne H. Varian, Art Deco (New York Finch College Museum Of Art, 1970).
  • Bayer, Patricia, Art Deco Architecture Design, Decoration and Detail from the Twenties and Thirties. (London: Thames & Hudson, 1999) ISBN 0500281491, ISBN 978-0500281499.
  • Benton, Charlotte (Author), Tim Benton (Author), Ghislaine Wood (Author), Oriana Baddeley (Collaborator). Art Deco: 1910-1939 (Little Brown & Co., 2003). ISBN 9780821228340.
  • Breeze, Carla, American Art Deco: Modernistic Architecture and Regionalism (Norton, WW & Co., 2003). ISBN 0500281491; ISBN 978-0500281499.
  • Duncan, Alaistair: Art Deco: The definitive Guide to the Decorative Arts of the 1920s & 1930's.(Thames & Hudson 2009) ISBN 978-0500238554
  • Gallagher, Fiona, Christie's Art Deco (Watson Guptill Publications, 2002) ISBN 1862055092.
  • Hillier, Bevis The World of Art Deco (New York, E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1971) ISBN 9780525482383 ISBN 0525482385.
  • Lucie-Smith, Edward: Art Deco Painting (Phaidon Press Ltd London 1996) ISBN 978-0714835761
  • Ray, Gordon N.; Tansell, G. Thomas, Ed., The Art Deco Book In France. The Bibliographical Society of The University of Virginia, Charlottesville, 2005) ISBN 1883631122.
  • Savage, Rebecca Binno and Greg Kowalski. Art Deco in Detroit (Images of America). (Arcadia, 2004). ISBN 0-7385-3228-2.
  • Unes, Wolney. Identidade Art Deco de Goiânia. (Ateliê, 2003). ISBN 85-7480090-2.

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