Art Deco was a popular international design movement from 1925 until 1939, 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. This movement was, in a sense, an amalgam of many different styles and movements of the early 20th century, including Neoclassical, Constructivism, Cubism, Modernism, Bauhaus, 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. At the time, this style was seen as elegant, functional, and modern.
In the summer of 1969, Hillier conceived organizing an exhibition called Art Deco at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 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.
Art Deco design influences were expressed in fractionated, crystalline, faceted forms of decorative Cubism and Futurism, in Fauvism's palette. 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 Detroit, Michigan: the Fisher Building and the Guardian Building.
Corresponding to these influences, Art Deco is characterized by use of materials such as aluminium, stainless steel, lacquer, inlaid wood, sharkskin (shagreen), and zebraskin. 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 Hall, and the spire of the Chrysler Building.
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 Bridge, interiors of cinema theaters (a prime example being the Paramount Theater in Oakland, California) and ocean liners such as the Île de France, the Queen Mary, and Normandie. Art Deco was employed extensively throughout America's train stations in the 1930s, designed to reflect the modernity and efficiency of the train. The first art-deco train station in the United States was the Union Station in Omaha, Nebraska. The unveiling of streamlined trains paralleled the construction of the art deco stations.
A parallel movement called Streamline Moderne, or simply Streamline, followed close behind. Streamline was influenced by the modern aerodynamic designs 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 Chrysler Airflow design of 1933 was commercially unsuccessful, it provided the lead for more conservatively designed pseudo-streamlined vehicles. These "streamlined" forms began to be used even for mundane and static objects such as pencil sharpeners and refrigerators.
Art Deco celebrates the Machine Age through explicit use of man-made materials (particularly glass and stainless steel), symmetry, 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".
Among the decorative arts during this period, architecture and sculpture are easier to recognize than other forms of Art Deco, for they experienced the greatest popularity and with greater longevity than others, such as lacquering, glass work, and industrial design. Popular sculptors include (in alphabetical order): Rene Paul Chambellan, Marshall Fredericks, C. Paul Jennewein, Joseph Kiselewski, Lee Lawrie, and Paul Manship.
Architects of this time include Albert Anis, Ernest Cormier, Banister Flight Fletcher, Bruce Goff, Charles Holden, Raymond Hood, Ely Jacques Kahn, Edwin Lutyens, William van Alen, Wirt C. Rowland, Giles Gilbert Scott, Joseph Sunlight, Ralph Walker, Thomas Wallis, and Owen Williams.
Other forms of decorative art were very focused on elegance, dynamic design, and bright colours, while expressing practical modernity. Many popular interior designers of this period were also furniture designers. Artists like Santiago Martinez Delgado, Tamara de Lempicka, Eileen Gray, Jules Leleu, and Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann all fit into this category.
A select few industrial designers were extremely popular, such as Walter Dorwin Teague, Maurice Ascalon, and Donald Deskey. Other notable artists were Georg Jensen (silversmith), Jean Dunand (lacquer), Edgar Brandt (wrought iron), Harry Clarke (stained glass) and Cartier (clocks and jewelry).
Appropriate to the rich diversity of sources, some of the finest surviving examples of art-deco art and architecture are found in Cuba, especially in Havana. The Bacardi Building is the best known of these; however, the style is found throughout the city of Havana and other cities of Cuba. The style is expressed in the architecture of residences, businesses, hotels, and many pieces of decorative art, furniture, and utensils in these public buildings, as well as in private homes.
Another country with many examples of rich art-deco architecture is Brazil, specially in Goiânia and cities like Cipó (Bahia), Iraí (Rio Grande do Sul) or even Rio de Janeiro, especially in Copacabana. Also in the Brazilian Northeast — notably in countryside cities, such as Campina Grande in Paraiba State — 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.
Dwelling-house design during the 1930s in the UK was also very much influenced by Art Deco. Straight, white-rendered house frontages rising to flat roofs, sharply geometric door surrounds, Egyptian motifs, tall windows as well as convex curved metal corner windows or even round bull's-eye windows (reminiscent of ocean-liner design), all were characteristic of that period. However, during double-glazing transformations in the late twentieth century, many of the original art deco window features were lost and replaced by less distinctive styles.
The 1930s was the period during which most building of homes specifically for sale took place in the UK. Despite loss of some classic art-deco features from remodelling in subsequent decades, the large number of houses remaining from the period ensures that many fine examples of art-deco housing can still be viewed.
Of particular note in the typical '1930s semi' are sunrise-symbol-motif doors, garden gates and garages as well as the infamous 'suntrap' window (featuring a distinct one-sided curve) and the linear form of the famous 'critall' window. There are features such as monochrome wall and floor tiling and bakelite door-knobs in simple geometric designs, sometimes with deco-flourished fingerplates or escutcheons.
Fine examples of luxurious art-deco homes are now vested in organisations such as English Heritage and The National Trust in the UK. Both organisations seek to maintain and restore historic homes and facilitate paid public access. A particularly beautiful example is Eltham Palace, built in 1936 by Stephen and Virginia Courtauld, close to the ruins of Henry VIII's boyhood home in London. It features a large circular reception room with a glass roof, beautifully impressive bathroom, bedrooms and dining rooms and all of the original furnishings and features, including a house-wide radio system and an arterial vacuum-cleaning system.
Although Art Deco fell out of vogue in the 1940s, it has had small rebirths over subsequent decades. Its designs frequently appear in modern architecture, entertainment, and media when a "classic retro" look is sought. In media, such examples are obvious in Batman: The Animated Series from the early 1990s in which the show's creators used art-deco styling fused with a deliberate darkness to create an art-deco variant style often referred to as Dark Deco. Films such as Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Dick Tracy, and King Kong have various art-deco elements as well.
In Long Beach, California, much of the recent city development has been presented in an art-deco–like, postmodern style. Similarly, Downtown Disney in Anaheim, California has an art-deco–themed section. A section of the planned community of Ladera Ranch, California, has a shopping center themed to Art Deco.
Similarly in Santa Ana, California, new development has looked to replicate and complement the historical art-deco structures already there.
Art Deco can also be seen in the graphic design of various video games, such as BioShock and the Fallout series, which use it to give their high-tech settings a retro-futuristic feel. The film-noir-type adventure game Grim Fandango largely takes place in a very pronounced art-deco environment, and the strategy game Sim City 4 has similar influences as well.
Much of pre-war Shanghai had a distinct art-deco style. Today, some Shanghainese are attempting to save that architecture.