The 2013 movie adaptation of Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby (1925) by Australian director Baz Luhrmann has brought the 1920s look back in fashion, if it ever went out of fashion, and with it the most striking style of the period between the two world wars, Art Deco.
Like Art Nouveau, the style before it, Art Deco lasted only about 20 to 30 years, from the 1910s to the 1930s. Yet it influenced many aspects of life in Europe and in America at that time, starting with architecture and design. Most of the best examples of this style have been preserved and can still be seen today.
How do you spot Art Deco? Here are its key features:
– Geometric shapes and symmetry of design
– Sharp angles and right angles within the design
– Frequently curved corners and edges
– Series of three and repeated geometry
– Common but not necessary metal lines or pieces as accents
– Stylized references to both nature and machines
– Strong contrast in color choices
As always, the best way of developing an eye for a style is to become familiar with its look. Perhaps the most famous pieces of Art Deco architecture are the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building in New York, both completed during the Great Depression thanks to the lower labor costs and to the competition between two men who wanted to build the tallest skyscraper in the world no matter what.
The Chrysler Building, built 1928-1930:
And the Chrysler Building’s eagle head gargoyles, which feature in many movies and are a great example of the Art Deco stylization of nature, which was also influential in graphic design and advertising at the time:
The Empire State Building, built in 1930-1931 (the tallest building in the world until 1972):
The Carbide and Carbon building in Chicago, built in 1929, is an another landmark. Entrance and lobby:
Another place that takes you back in time to the Art Deco period is the Fairmont Peace Hotel in Shanghai, built 1926-1929:
Another variation on the theme can be seen in South Beach, Miami, which has a stunning range of late Art Deco buildings. Here is the McAlpin Hotel, designed in the late 1930s and built in 1940:
For furniture, here is a typical Art Deco U-shape for a table, and a round coffee table with metal accents:
Where are the best places to see Art Deco? Definitely in the US — New York, Chicago, Miami — and in Cuba — Havana. In fact, the 2013 World Congress on Art Deco was held in March in Havana. Other cities include Mumbai, London, and to some extent Shanghai.
So, if it’s from the 1910s-1930s period and has a rich geometric design, with metal accents and rounded edges, chances are it’s Art Deco.
Unlike Art Nouveau, Art Deco remained influential long after its end as a movement and spawned countless Art Deco-inspired buildings, pieces of furnitures and more in the decades that followed. So look around, and you just might spot it everywhere.