Friday, May 2, 2008

Art Deco Origins: 1925 Paris Exhibition

Lalique Fountain

It's intriguing to look back from an 80+ year distance to hear people's reactions to the modernist movement of the 1920s. Even sophisticated American tastemakers had misgivings about the lines and proportions of the new designs of the time.

After a visit to the 1925 Paris Exhibition, Richardson Wright, editor of House and Garden magazine writes of the 'modern tendencies' in art, architecture, and design :

"There were enough architectural vagaries in to make this American delegate wonder if the show were the product of madmen, or simply the tricks and pranks of highly sophisticated architects who wanted to create the most serious and sustained exhibition of bad taste the world had ever seen. Or were they really striving for a hitherto unpronounced interpretation of living Nature."

(Quotes from this book.)

I have to say, my first thought when reading the quote above was, 'huh, what a stuffy man!'
Until I did a web search and found some of these images of the actual buildings created for the exhibit. Then...he was harsh, but I could understand his point of view a bit more. All architectural images and many more from this website. Click on pictures for larger image.

Apparently, the Melnikov pavilion by the USSR was put out in the far reaches of the exhibition land:

But I still think the pavilion for colonial French Africa is the wildest of the bunch:

Wright went on to focus on the furniture and decoration of the exhibit, saying that they were more pertinent to the interests of the magazine. The accompanying images in the 1925 article are not all from the exhibit itself. (Some are from a New York apartment, and some are from French exhibitors.) He had some mixed reactions to the modernist furniture in Paris at the show:

"The first thing that strikes the observer are the lines of the furniture. The pieces look elephantine and out of proportion. So a great many of them are. They appear to have been made for people who are very much overweight."

On the other hand, he had this to say:
"...much of the craftsmanship is superb, for good craftsmanship is a form of tradition that has not yet been abandoned on the Continent. Rare and unusual woods are used and used effectively."
"The chairs are, in the main, comfortable; but the lines of the furniture, however stimulating as novelties cannot be said the delight the eye for a long time. They are too heavy, too ponderous, too serious looking."

Room decoration attributed to Lord and Taylor

Wright also contrasts the wall colors, wallpaper, and textiles to the furniture style:
"The designs are modernist in the extreme. And whereas the furniture designs are mainly rotund, the fabric designs are often angular. They are lively and amusing and full of laughter."
Ruhlmann interior
(Actually designed later, but indicative of his style and use of color.)

More information on the 1925 Paris Exhibition can be found here, and here,and more photos here.


Anonymous said...
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David Thompson said...

Thanks. It is great to see these pics from 1925. I have to admit that Ruhlmann doesn't do a lot for me but it was still a thrill to see some of the original 1925 pieces at the V&A Art Deco exhibition in London in 2003.

Great Dame said...

David, I'm jealous that you got to see the exhibit at the V&A!! Must have been great. Also, I'm still on the hunt for some Modernist gardens from the time period. I've found a couple things, but not much. Hoping to post about that soon. If you're interested, check out the Art Nouveau site that I linked to; they have a few images of the 1925 Expo grounds and gardens.

Ream O Rama said...

Love the giant cactus building, don't see nearly enough cacti in Paris these days.

Just think if there are adoring fans for a couch like the one pictured above now, we're going to have some museum pieces for future generations...
love the lucite chair BTW

David Thompson said...

Thanks Great Dame,

I did have a look at Garden History Girl's blog through the link on your page.

The V&A was great and they are bring some of it out to the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) here in Melbourne in June this year and they are going to supplement it with some Australian pieces that the NGV usually have in storage so it is going to be very exciting.

I don't know if any of the original 1925 pieces are coming (I doubt it) but it will still be fabulous.