Dressed for Deco. "Art Deco: 1910-1939" by Charlotte Benton, Tim Benton and Ghislaine Wood (eds). [review]
London’s Victoria and Albert Museum is currently hosting a 'sumptuous' survey of the Art Deco period. Quoting curator Ghislaine Wood that the central themes are 'fashion, glamour, commerce', "Time" magazine’s review presses the buttons: Top Hat, ocean liners, Cartier (the scarab brooch), streamlined cocktail shakers and radios, and stepped pyramid skyscrapers … The list evokes a suspension of glittering objects in amber. The book "Art Deco: 1910-1939" accompanies the exhibition. The editors note in the introduction that 'Art Deco' was not recognised as a style label until 1966, with the publication of Bevis Hillier's "Art Deco of the 20s and 30s". Deco was born and became a craze without ever having a name. John Pile's "Art Deco Dictionary of 20th Century Design" says that 'the Modernists denigrated the style as Modernistic, putting a modern surface on things without any of Modernism's depths.' That’s a lot of protesting moderns there. The book at hand notes that as late as 1984 a critic was writing doubtfully: 'The critical re-evaluation of which Art Deco today is the object cannot deny that it consists more of a taste than a style, and this is responsible for the slippery way it resists theoretical categorization.' A taste rather than a style? Was Art Deco merely 'Modernistic'? Did it simply substitute a dress code for a program? One may as defensibly argue that it was ahead of its time - not Modernist but already Post-Modern. As "Art Deco: 1910–1939" demonstrates in its hundreds of pictures and the connecting skein of exegeses, Deco was the international face of its age. Not the faces of Dorothea Lange's WPA farmers or August Sanders’s peasants, but the shining face of grace and luxe and leisure - that is to say, one kind of the best we can be. As someone once remarked about civilisation, even a veneer is an actual thing.