Art Deco around the World
The Deco World
Carried on the winds of commerce and capitalism, Art Deco spread quickly after 1925. A dynamic new age of communications ensured its global reach. As the rich travelled the world in luxury on Art Deco ocean liners, films and magazines transmitted the style to a worldwide audience.
In many parts of the world, Art Deco stood for modernity and the escape from convention. It offered an accessible image of modern life and progress, more fun than competing forms of design such as Modernism. At the same time, designers could adapt Art Deco to convey national or local identities and meanings, using native decorative forms and subject matter.
From Shanghai to Mexico City, Art Deco influenced the design of the cityscape and the homes of the rich. Above all, it became the style of the pleasure palaces of the age - hotels, cocktail bars, night-clubs and cinemas. Everywhere, it came to represent new aspirations and desires, notably the search for youth, glamour, fantasy and fun.
The inter-war period saw a dramatic transformation in Japan. The growth of cities such as Tokyo stimulated the development of a thriving urban culture centred on the department store, cinema and café. Questions of cultural identity were debated as Japan sought to balance the demands of tradition and modernity, East and West. Art Deco, itself partly inspired by the arts of Asia, had particular appeal.
The reconstruction of the capital after a major earthquake in 1923 saw the erection of many Art Deco buildings. The style was seen as a fitting choice for the creation of a modern, sophisticated city. The impact of Art Deco is also evident in striking ceramic, metal, lacquer and graphic works of the 1920s and 1930s.
In India, Art Deco transformed the lives of a westernized princely elite and the urban middle class. The Maharajah of Indore fashioned a taste for Art Deco by commissioning works from leading European designers for his palace, Manik Bagh. At Umaid Bhawan, the Maharajah of Jodhpur fused western and Indian decorative conventions in a European-designed scheme executed by Indian craftsmen. The result was one of the most sumptuous Art Deco palaces ever built.
Bombay, like many cities, saw its seafront developed with a strip of chic, Art Deco apartment buildings. In India the modern apartment block signalled new ways of living, as many young Indians abandoned the multi-generation home in favour of western lifestyles.
Travel & Transportation
From the euphoria of Lindbergh's first transatlantic flight in 1926 to the horror of the Hindenburg fire of 1937, the Art Deco age was one of the most extraordinary in the history of travel. It marked the expansion of mass travel and the high point of exclusive, luxury travel.
The vast ocean liners became the greatest symbols of Art Deco elegance and comfort. The Ile de France, Atlantic, Empress of Britain, Conte di Savoia and Queen Mary brought high style to the high seas. The most luxurious of them all, the Normandie, became the ultimate symbol of national prestige. Completed in 1933 and costing over $60 million, she was decorated and furnished by leading French Art Deco designers.
Trains also came to represent prestige, speed and modernity, with private companies and state railways competing to build ever faster and more comfortable models. Streamlined trains, such as the American Twentieth Century Limited and the British Mallard, went into service in nearly every country during the 1930s.
Striking designs for posters and marketing material also emphasized speed and comfort as characteristics of the modern world.
This content was originally written in association with the exhibition 'Art Deco: 1910-1939', on display at the V&A South Kensington from 27 March - 20 July 2003.