What is wasted beauty

10.2021

In any case, it was the time when the Third Republic of France experienced its greatest heyday, financed not least by the enormous reparation payments that had been imposed on the defeated German Reich in the Treaty of Versailles.

The current exhibition 1925, quand l’Art Déco séduit le monde in the Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine is the most successful that the “Cité”, the Paris architecture museum, has ever seen. The visitors crowd in front of the showcases with vases from Sèvres, the furniture made of exquisite tropical wood by Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann and the clothes by Coco Chanel. It is as if it is again acting as a magnet: the need for beauty and waste that electrified the masses back then, who could not even remotely afford the products on display.

Art Deco was essentially a Parisian affair. Only here lived those upper-class consumers in sufficient numbers who could have the latest offers tailored to their needs, from automobiles to villas. The new fashion for summer stays on the Cote d’Azur brought with it that ship style that makes Art Deco villas, which look like yachts ashore, so irresistible. Robert Mallet-Stevens with his Villa Noailles in Hyères shaped the airy, light ideal of these supposedly carefree years in 1929. In general, shipbuilding became pure fantasy production. The exhibition also shows a color film of life on board the “Normandie”, which was commissioned in 1935, and is probably the most beautiful transatlantic liner that has ever existed.

Not much can be found in the Cité about the 1925 exhibition itself. Neither the Soviet pavilion by Konstantin Melnikow nor the Pavillon de l’Esprit nouveau by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret receive due mention. In general, the 1925 arts and crafts exhibition was a mix of national and commercial pavilions. It was about launching a new French decorative style and, above all, stimulating consumption.

Art Deco architecture is disparate. It reached its peak only a decade after the Paris exhibition, in the mid-30s, actually not until the 1937 World's Fair. The great Palais, Chaillot and Tokyo, which were built for the occasion, show the elegant combination of monumental ones Structural forms, sculptural décor and pleasantly laid out public space have that stage design-like quality that naturally could not have been fully developed in 1925.

What exactly is Art Deco?

Magnificent models can be seen in the Cité. The slim tower that Robert Mallet-Stevens had erected for the “Maison du tourisme” looks even more impressive in the model, as there is no Beaux-Arts show building in the way as in the reality of 1925. Everything should be light and bright , especially the public buildings. This message was particularly well received after decades of cluttered eclectic buildings. In 1928, Urbain Cassan built the station in the sooty mining town of Lens with a barrel-vaulted roof, perfectly lit thanks to the glass blocks that were so popular at the time. The town hall of Boulogne-Billancourt at the gates of Paris was built by Tony Garnier on the one hand intimidatingly bulky, on the other hand with completely windowed walls in front of the workplaces of the municipal officials.

Art Deco was a total work of art. The style is thus in line with the times, which strived for a reorganization of the whole of life. It is no wonder that the new concept could be expressed most clearly in the construction of shops and company representations that included modernity as such in the identity card. But social housing was also built in a rather block-like Art Deco, according to Henri Sauvage.

A consistent definition of Art Deco can hardly be formulated. One can most easily cite the decorative, which takes precedence over construction and mere function. Art Deco buildings explain to the viewer what purpose they serve. Paris reveled in an elegance that was completely alien to the hard, harsh forms of the north, from the Dutch de Stijl to the German Bauhaus to Wchutemas in Soviet Russia. It wasn't about mass production, least of all about mass needs. The exhibition in the elongated, slightly curved basement of the Cité surprises with ever new beauties, with jewelry, clothes, furniture, which the architecture provides the framework. Art Deco can be remembered as an excess of luxury and at the same time a formal language that granted the general public a previously unknown dignity. Not the modernity of Le Corbusier is the deeper expression of the 30s, but the state style of the train stations and post offices during the times of the republic and the popular front government.