History of American Art Deco


The term "Art Deco" has its origins in the 1925 French art exposition at Le Musee des Arts Decoratifs.  The exposition was meant to be a display of nouveau design from around the world, but U.S. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover declared Americans off limits from entering, as he felt no contemporary architecture was "new" enough.  Instead, Hoover sent experts to learn and adapt the exposition's designs to American architectural expression.  The ensemble included members of the American Institute of Architecture, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The New York Times.  Their reports along with the attendance of many American architects to the exposition address the swell of decorative treatments in American design between 1925 and 1941. 


Art Deco was not labeled as a separate category from Modernism until a 1966 retrospective on the 1925 exposition.  Patricia Bayer describes Art Deco as "an architecture of ornament, geometry, energy, retrospection, optimism, color, texture, light and at times even symbolism."


American Art Deco following the Paris exposition included all the decorative arts including furniture, flatware and interior design.         

The ornamentation focused on geometry, machinery, botany, nationalism and color.  These ideals created architecture Courtesy: Randy Juster 2003                                                                                which was not unique in design, but in its powerful and beautiful ornament.  American Art Deco "took the best of European nationalistic styles and updated them, using new techniques and styles." (Barbara Capitman)  Additional inspiration came from American Indian models and Pre-Columbian structures. 

American Art Deco conveyed both beauty and strength in a time when economic depression left much of the country unemployed and embittered.  During the 1930s many public buildings were decorated in the Art Deco style, exuding nationalism through massive structures with great coloring, inspiring murals and strong sculpture reminiscent of Roman republicanism.

Although sparse examples of Art Deco was created following World War II in cities such as Miami, the International Exposition and the war's ghastly costs led America into a toned down post war architecture where ornamentation was abandoned in favor of simplicity and regimented design.


Examples of Art Deco features