30 January 2016

Art Deco Complete

Art Deco Complete
Art Deco Complete, by Alastair Duncan, surveys the development of Art Deco furniture, sculpture, graphics, glass, ceramics, lighting, textiles, metalwork and lacquer, and jewellery. (Architecture and industrial design are not included.)

The book is divided into two parts: profiles of the major designers in each medium, and an encyclopedic guide to 500 other designers and manufacturers. It's justifiably subtitled The Definitive Guide To The Decorative Arts Of The 1920s & 1930s.

Art Deco takes its name from the 1925 Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes. Duncan notes that the style evolved from pure Deco into Streamline Moderne - "Just as the Art Deco style had supplanted Art Nouveau in France, it in turn began to give way to Modernism in the late 1920s" - though his coverage of Deco is broad and inclusive.

Art Deco was popularised by Bevis Hillier's book Art Deco Of The 20s & 30s (1967), and Hillier later co-wrote Art Deco Style (1997; with Stephen Escritt). The Victoria & Albert Museum's superb exhibition catalogue Art Deco 1910-1939 (2003) is the most comprehensive Art Deco book.

Reviewing Art Deco Complete, Hillier called it "certainly the most luscious, lavish book ever to appear on the subject". However, he also highlighted its author's chequered past: "He was found guilty of conspiring with a grave-robber and... sentenced to 27 months in a Federal gaol." Hillier adds: "Some may feel that this ropey past makes anything Duncan has to say suspect; but I do not" with a hint of the famous phrase from House Of Cards: "You might very well think that. I couldn't possibly comment."

Art Deco Complete contains over 1,000 illustrations, and the UK edition has an elegant dust jacket based on a 1938 design by Georges Levitsky. Its publisher, Thames & Hudson, bills it as "the most comprehensive account of the decorative arts of the Art Deco period ever assembled".

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