Art Deco Masterpieces
September 17 - November 22, 2004
We are proud to announce "Art Deco Poster Masterpieces," an important retrospective exhibition and sale of over 50 works from 1921 to 1939. The exhibit runs concurrently with the highly acclaimed Art Deco exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.
After World War I, the curvaceous opulence of Art Nouveau was soon replaced with the desire for a streamlined aesthetic celebrating modernity and efficiency. Art Deco, also known as the "Machine Age Style," captured the speed, energy, and elegance of the exciting new era and remained the primary international decorative movement until World War II.
Art Deco's design influences span a diverse array of styles and eras. Borrowing from bold avant-garde art movements such as Cubism, Futurism, and Constructivism, Art Deco was able to achieve a sense of power and dynamism. At the same time, the style hearkened back to the mathematical, geometric design themes prevalent in ancient Egypt, Assyria, and Persia. Art Deco also took cues from the German Plakatstil, the Viennese Secession, the Deutscher Werkbund, and the Parisian fashion design revolution, resulting in a simplified, streamlined, and angular style.
The 1925 Parisian Exposition des Arts Decoratifs - the exposition responsible for Art Deco's name - marked a turning point for the style. Noted for its soft elegance and exoticism up until that point, Art Deco developed into a more muscular and forceful style by the late 1920s and into the '30s.
Charles Loupot was a leader in this transitional period of the Twenties which combined the flowing grace of Art Nouveau and the abstraction, geometry, and tone of the new styles. His remarkable poster for PKZ of 1921 is a fiery scene of intense pastel tones for a men's fall clothing line. Another masterpiece comes from Ludwig Hohlwein, the great modernist from Munich, whose Herkules Bier poster (c. 1925) shows a muscular torso in flat tones of pink and beige that ripples with mystery and menace.
The preeminent figure in the latter phase of Art Deco was A.M. Cassandre, whose sleek poster designs of towering ships and speeding trains are considered 20th Century icons. Among his exhibited works are the Statendam (1929), one of his first ocean liner posters, revealing the artist's interest in Purism, and a rare variant of the Normandie (1935), a surrealistic tour-de-force that is perhaps the most famous poster of all time. Cassandre's rare Triplex poster (1931) features the somewhat robotic Everyman typical of the Thirties who is protected by unbreakable auto glass - all conveyed in a graphic shorthand which illustrates Cassandre's axiom that a poster should communicate like a telegram.
Cassandre's influence was widespread not only in France but abroad - so much so that even the Museum of Modern Art in New York recognized Cassandre's preeminence in a one man show in 1936. His disciples included Munetsugu Satomi, a Japanese working in Paris, Herbert Matter of Switzerland, and Pierre Fix-Masseau of France, who are all represented in the show.
The international nature of Art Deco is strongly reflected in the exhibition. Italy is represented by Ugo de Lazzaro's Italian Aerial Lines poster and Giuseppe Riccobaldi's Fiat 1500 poster, both showing the influence of the Futurist movement in their use of lines of force and airbrushing. Willem Ten Broek shows the impact of Cassandre on the Dutch in his beautiful Holland-Amerika Lijn, and Henri Pieck's Utrecht Trade Fair posters reveal an understanding of Constructivism. Travel posters by Jupp Wiertz and Albert Fuss for German oceanliners and tourist bureaus share the vocabulary and symbolism that effectively evoked the modern world.
Dominant themes of the show include travel posters, a genre that was practically reinvented by Cassandre's explorations in the late Twenties. His posters shifted the focus from the destination to the excitement of travel itself. Theodoro's dynamic Chemins de fer de l'est echoes this approach, although top ranked artists such as Roger Broders and Charles Hallo, known as Alo, created Art Deco classics that were more traditional in their subject.
Another dominant theme is fashion, whose illustrators played a seminal role in the transition from Art Nouveau to the new style. Many fine examples of hand-colored plates for the Gazette du Bon Ton from Lepape, Barbier, Marty, Iribe, and Brunelleschi are included. The show contains a fine selection of posters for the Swiss men's clothier, PKZ, which commissioned several dozen Art Deco designs that were printed as beautifully as they were designed.
The exhibition is rounded out with posters from around the world which effectively feature many of Art Deco's key symbols - the oceanliner, the skyscraper, the plane and zeppelin, the auto, and the bridge. Purvis' commanding Australia's 150th Anniversary Celebrations (1938) and Joseph Binder's 1939 New York World's Fair represent the style's grand phase before WWII set in.