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Wolfsonian–FIU opens its first major Art Deco exhibition in Fall 2018

Deco: Luxury to Mass Market (opening October 19, 2018) will trace Art Deco’s
European origins, migration to the U.S., and spectacular culmination in 1930s Miami Beach

Walking tour neighborhood guide to bring the Wolfsonian experience 

out of the galleries and into the streets
The Wolfsonian–Florida International University announces the museum’s first large-scale exhibition devoted to Art Deco, the style so central to South Beach’s world-famous architecture. On view starting October 19, 2018 and continuing for an extended run, Deco: Luxury to Mass Market will map the trajectory of Art Deco’s influence from its first appearance in Paris to its adoption by American tastemakers and trendsetters through more than 100 works from the Wolfsonian collection.

“This is a special opportunity for The Wolfsonian to share its vast collection of Art Deco objects in a way that it has never done before,” said Whitney Richardson, who co-organized the exhibition with fellow Wolfsonian curators Silvia Barisione and Shoshana Resnikoff. “There’s so much curiosity about how a style introduced in Paris came to be realized so impressively, and in such a varied way, halfway around the world on Miami Beach.
Deco tackles that very question by embracing a true Wolfsonian strength: digging into the social meaning behind a style, and considering its evolution.”

Added Barisione: “The exhibition exposes visitors to the unfamiliar dimensions of Art Deco. A style that became so closely associated with France was expressed in unique ways all over the word, from India to Russia. The show speaks to how an aesthetic embraced in far-flung places could be infused with the local influences and national traditions of the designers.”

Orienting Wolfsonian visitors to the history of Art Deco, the exhibition will begin with an introduction to the style’s hallmarks and beginnings in 1925. The Paris world’s fair, 
Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes, originally brought Art Deco to public visibility under the name “art moderne” in an effort to raise the status of the applied arts and industrial design to the level of fine art. Typified by the heavy use of ornament and stylized, natural motifs, the style at first emphasized luxury and borrowed greatly from a variety of historical sources such as Art Nouveau, the colonial exoticism of Mayan temples and Egyptian tombs, Cubist geometric forms, and ballet set design and costumes. It immediately proved incredibly popular, in part thanks to pioneer adopters like the influential Parisian department stores Bon Marché and Printemps creating display rooms fully decked out in the style to provide inspiration and showcase products.

The exhibition moves on to how Art Deco changed with its migration across Europe and particularly its journey overseas. Though the U.S. did not formally participate in the 1925 Paris exposition, its government delegated a commission of museum directors, department store owners, designers, and manufacturers to attend the fair and bring back ideas. Thus, many American audiences first encountered the style through museum exhibitions (at the Metropolitan Museum of Art) and in department stores (Lord & Taylor, John Wanamaker). European émigré designers trained at the Wiener Werkstätte or Deutscher Werkbund and steeped in modernist thinking likewise brought Art Deco to the U.S., where it began to take on uniquely American motifs like the skyscraper and form associations with progressive architecture and industry. The Great Depression put to bed Art Deco’s emphasis on luxury in favor of New Deal-inspired function and sleeker aesthetics. Affordability and streamlining were in vogue—trends that dovetailed with the notion of pushing a dampened economy into a promising future.

Deco 
concludes with the style’s pinnacle on Miami Beach as represented in hotels such as the Essex House, Kent, and New Yorker. After debuting his Florida Tropical House in the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair’s “Home of Tomorrow” section, architect Robert Law Weed returned to South Florida to help realize a new version of Deco design on a citywide-level, one informed by middle-class tourism and relaxation. The hundreds of Art Deco buildings that remain today, many of which have since been converted into apartments, still capture the elegance and carefree spirit of early Miami Beach—“where summer spends the winter.” Buildings selected in conjunction with the Miami Design Preservation League will be featured in a unique walking guide that will complete the story of Deco out on the streets of South Beach, extending the show’s narrative and the style’s legacy into the now.

Key works of 
Deco include:
  • Photographic portfolios from the 1925 exposition showcasing the works of Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann, Le Corbusier, and Jean Dunand, among others, as well as guidebooks from the pavilions;
  • Glass objects by René Lalique—a French jewelry designer who became popular for his Art Nouveau wares but found his voice at the 1925 exposition—including vases, perfume bottles, and powder boxes illustrating his influences from nature;
  • A writing desk and chair designed by Kem Weber for the San Francisco residence of Mr. and Mrs. John W. Bissinger (1929), featuring his signature sage-green painted wood and bridging European and American Art Deco designs;
  • A bedroom suite by Donald Deskey for Estey Manufacturing Company (1930–35) that beautifully demonstrates how even simple wooden furniture of the time could be modernized;
  • Tropical Deco train interiors (1936–37) by Paul Cret for the Florida East Coast Railroad featuring tropical animals and his Cincinnati Union Terminal (1929–33) Streamline furnishings; and
  • Design drawings and objects by industrial designers such as Raymond Loewy, Walter von Nessen, John Vassos, Henry Dreyfuss, and Walter Dorwin Teague.

“As an institution, we’ve been waiting to present this story,” said Wolfsonian director Tim Rodgers. “Art Deco is such a natural topic for The Wolfsonian; it shapes the architecture of our neighborhood, which attracts sightseers and admirers from across the globe every year. Though we are known for many iconic Art Deco pieces—like our lobby fountain, originally part of the façade of the Norris Theatre—our collection holds far more riches, and we’re excited to finally bring many of these out for public view.”

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