At Deco - When Modern Art & Industry Meet

In the early decades of the 20th century, art and design responded to innovations in manufacturing and technology by incorporating the visual elements of industrialization—geometry, clean lines, pure colors—into art and product design. Modern art had been moving in that direction for several decades already, but when modern art traditions fused with the disciplines of industrial design, public architecture, interior decoration and fashion, the result was a decorative style, Art Deco, that was a prominent aesthetic force until the beginning of World War II. 

In the decades since, Art Deco has become a go-to style for artists who are looking to incorporate streamlined abstract elegance into their work, 

Even before the beginning of the 20th century, artists' experiments with abstraction in their work were laying the geometric foundations of Art Deco. In the late 1800s, Paul Cezanne created abstracted landscapes and still lifes in which he reduced complex real-world objects to simplified geometric shapes—cubes, cones, rectangles, circles—and within just a few years, the Cubists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque went even further, pushing their abstractions to the point that geometry took precedence over naturalism. By the time that the Russian Kazimir Malevich painted his "Black Square" in 1913, the appeal of pure geometry in art was solidified. 

In the realms of design and decorative arts, a concurrent style, Art Nouveau, was developing another component of Art Deco. Art Nouveau favored the clean lines and bold, flat colors of modern art, but it steered clear of severe geometry, opting instead for curves and flowing lines, floral and botanical motifs rather than the simplicity of squares and circles.

The triumph of Art Deco was its ability to combine disparate sensibilities—the geometric abstraction of modern art, the precision and materials of industrial design, and the lush ornamentation of Art Nouveau—into a coherent decorative style. It emerged in France in the 1920s, and within a decade, it found its way into all aspects of mainstream design—architecture, vehicle design, product design, the graphic arts, film—in every corner of the industrialized world. 

In transportation design, Art Deco symbolized speed and technological advancement. Raymond Loewy and Henry Dreyfuss designed streamlined trains that rocketed across the landscape, and automobile manufacturers made cars that looked as if they could slip effortlessly through the air. In architecture, Art Deco meant up-to-the-minute luxury and progress. In New York City, the gleaming stainless-steel spire of the Chrysler Building reached to the sky, and the Art Deco hotels of Miami Beach made well-heeled visitors feel as if they were at the center of an exciting new world. 

As the world moved toward war in the 1930s, Art Deco's popularity declined, and a new post-war sensibility replaced it entirely in the 1950s. After the economic troubles of the Great Depression and the trauma of the war, the luxuriousness of the style seemed, to many, excessive and distasteful. Art Deco returned, though, in the late 1960s, when art historian Bevis Hillier wrote the first book about the style and inspired an Art Deco revival. 

Art Deco surfaced again as a popular graphic design style in the 1980s, when the Art Deco's emphasis on luxury and opulence once again aligned with the spirit of the times. In the abstract metal wall art of Jon Allen, Art Deco themes occur again and again, in the pieces' vibrant colors, their bold geometric designs and their sleek metal materials.