Sunday, June 22, 2008

Art Deco Exhibition in the Southern Hemisphere

National Gallery of Victoria website

This winter (28 June to 5 October 2008) 2008, the National Gallery of Victoria is the exclusive Australian venue for a major exhibition of the celebrated and popular style, Art Deco. The exhibition is the most popular program ever mounted at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, which houses one of the world’s great collections of Art Deco, comprising over 300 works and covering all artistic media from painting to photography, fashion to film and architecture to jewellery. Spanning the boom of the roaring Twenties and the Depression–ridden 1930s, Art Deco came to epitomize all the glamour, opulence and hedonism of the Jazz age. It was the era of the flapper girl, the luxury ocean liner, the Hollywood film and the skyscraper.

The Australian

This short extract is about how Art Deco was influenced by ancient Egyptian Art, especially after the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen.

Art Deco emerged in the years before 1914 in many of the cities that had embraced Art Nouveau and its development accelerated in the aftermath of World War I. It drew life from many sources: the art of ancient civilisations and the avant-garde, the exoticism of the Ballets Russes, the motifs of French tradition and the imagery of the machine age. By the early '20s Art Deco had come to represent the fast and new, the exotic and the sensual. It was a style shaped in the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, by "all the nervous energy stored up and unexpended in the war". And although its creators tended to avoid social idealism, the style clearly reflected the tensions of wider cultural politics. Figuration became central to Art Deco practice and reclining nudes, dancing maenads or huntresses could be seen on everything from textile and poster designs to moulded glass and ceramic vessels. While Art Deco was a deeply eclectic style and designers drew from many sources, none gave the style its distinct flavour more than the use of the exotic. The arts of Africa and the East proved a rich source for both forms and materials, while recent archeological discoveries fuelled a romantic fascination with the ancient cultures of Egypt, Mesopotamia and Meso-America.

The archeological discovery that gripped the public imagination most profoundly was that of the tomb of the boy-pharaoh, Tutankhamen. In November 1922 archeologist Howard Carter uncovered an undisturbed tomb in the Valley of Kings near Luxor, one of the most important discoveries in archeological history. Funerary goods included spectacular jewellery, chariots, furniture, alabaster vessels and the fantastic gold mask and mummy cases.

These objects sparked enormous popular interest in all things Egyptian. It was, however, not so much the specific forms of the Tutankhamen pieces that were incorporated into Art Deco design but, rather, generic Egyptian imagery such as lotus flowers and buds, scarabs and hieroglyphics. The pylon and the pyramid were particularly popular motifs and appeared in many forms of decorative arts from bookbinding to jewellery.

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