Having long been in love with Art Deco, I have also been asked and wondered why Art Deco is not so recognized in France, my own country and the birthplace of the style. Numerous Art Deco supporting societies first started in the USA and have now extended all over the World, but barely exist in France. Out of the dozens of association members, only 2 are in France:
– The Association Society of Saint-Quentin. Both Saint-Quentin and closeby Reims were devastated during WWI. They were both rebuilt in the 1920’s and 1930’s, when Art Deco architecture was in fashion and both formed the French Art Deco city association. As far as I know, they are the only member. Few pictures from my trip to Reims in 2012 are available at the following location
– The Perpignan Art Deco Association, that was founded in… April 2014.
I thoroughly search in both the French and English internet, but they seem to be the only ones so far.
ICADS (International Coalition of Art Deco Societies – www.icads.info) organises an Art Deco World Congress every 2 years. The next one will be in Shanghai in 2015 (see post World Art Deco congress ) for more details.
This lack of enthusiasm for Art Deco in France, and probably in Europe (the only other member of ICADS in Europe is in London) may seem difficult to understand for lovers of the period. My long time in France this summer allowed me to explore this issue. Art Deco is definitely undervalued in France, here are some of the reasons why:
Batiment Art Deco à Amboise
– There are many other old buildings in France and Europe
Art Deco spread around the world along with industrialisation. For many countries, in particular the USA or Australia, it was the time of cities creation and expansion. Long neglected (like Miami’s Art Deco hotels that only where looked after in the 90’s), Art Deco buildings are often now the oldest buildings in town, making them valuable.
In Europe, they are most often not the oldest buildings by far. The best example is this neglected Art Deco Cafe in Amboise, a renaissance town where surely little time is spent of modern buildings as opposed to 16th century relics next to it.
– Art Deco is not that old. The first major Art Deco exhibition in Paris just took place.
The first major art deco exhibition took place in Paris in the beginning of 2014 (see post about the exhibition). There are other museums in France about it, but they are also not that old.
– Major building were built out of city centers.
Being a late architecture style, Art Deco was often the style of developments in the suburbs of the cities that where expending at the time. In Paris it is mostly found in outside districts or in close suburbs. Another example is Villeurbanne’s gratte-ciel district that was in the middle of nowhere when it was built.
Gratte-Ciel, public housing in Villeurbanne
– Architecture of the utilities. Many hospitals, barracks and other administration buildings
Coming at a time of major construction of public buildings, art deco was often used public use and public housing buildings in France, as opposed to earlier styles used for palaces and stylish buildings. This is different from other parts of the World.
– It’s “so common”.
The 1920’s and 30’s were a period of intense construction in France, so many example can be found from this period. Not all are really art deco though and not all have great architectural value.
With time passing and interest abroad, Art Deco seems to attract more and more interest in France. The first Paris-based exhibition about this truly first global style will certainly help to create attention to it. Hopefully more fellow French will get interested in it and create Art Deco societies and maybe Art Deco festival equalling the famous one in Napier, new Zealand.
August 2015: There is now a Paris Art Deco Society, that started right at the time of original writing of this article.
Their website is: http://www.paris-artdeco.org/
Representative of the Paris Art Deco Society will join the Shanghai Art Deco Congress. Maybe one day there will be a Art Deco congress in Paris… where it all started