The 1925 Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes was the first time that decorative and applied arts held centre stage and the only criterion for the exhibits was that they be "modern". Art Deco embodied a luxurious style with sleek lines using bold colour contrasts and modern machine-age materials such as plastic, chrome, Bakelite, stainless steel, glass and lacquer. The term "Art Deco" came into use after a retrospective exhibition entitled Les anneés '25, held at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, in 1966.
The style was applied to all aspects of life, especially to the design of modes of transportation such as trains, ships, cars and airplanes. Posters, advertisements and magazines of the day promoted travel. Manufacturers adopted Art Deco design motifs and produced streamlined clocks, radios and sophisticated products that represented speed and efficiency. Ladies' fashion and jewellery did the same as did gentlemen's tailoring. Fashions were luxurious and flamboyant and designers such as Paul Poiret and Erté flourished. The influence spread to furniture, sculpture, architecture and graphic design.
The 1925 Exposition had a major influence on the decorative arts in America, even though the United States did not exhibit at that time. In the 1920s and 1930s many aspects of American film were affected by the moderne style including set design and decoration, actress’s costumes, publicity posters and the architecture of the movie palaces. Jazz was born and soon became the sound of the era. In Paris, New York and London stage productions and extravagant revues used opulent Art Deco sets.
Art Deco lives on! It has had a strong influence on modern design and in recent years there has been renewed interest with many major exhibitions in museums around the world on the Art Deco theme. New books are being published on the period in large numbers. Art Deco buildings are being restored with increasing frequency and many are being designated historic sites. Here in Montreal, the ninth-floor restaurant in the former Eaton's Department Store has been declared a historic site. It was designed by the architect Jacques Carlu and opened in 1931. It is a very close copy of the first-class dining hall of the transatlantic liner S S Ile de France, launched in 1926. (Not open to the public at the present time.)
The present exhibition pays homage to Art Deco on the occasion of the 10th World Congress being held in Montreal, Quebec, May 24 – 30, 2009. It displays examples of Art Deco design in various formats and styles including ephemera, popular magazines, book-bindings, typography and advertisements from the holdings of the Rare Books and Special Collections, McGill University. The exhibit continues on the fourth floor Rare Book Lobby and Reading Room where the theme is life in Montreal in the 1920s and 1930s. As in the rest of the world, Art Deco had a profound and lasting influence on life in Montreal. While the enduring monuments of Art Deco are to be found in the city's buildings, the style itself was to be found in all aspects of contemporary life. Drawing upon materials from Rare Books and Special Collections, including the John Bland Canadian Architecture Collection, the influence of the Art Deco aesthetic is documented with architectural drawings and photographs, brochures, theatre programmes, trade and commercial catalogues, menus and post cards. The latter items provide an intimate glimpse of the era through the tangible objects of everyday life, while the former traces an important transitional period from traditional architectural styles to the "modern" concepts of design and functionality. All together, they reveal a vibrant era of innovation and experimentation.
This exhibition has been organized by the staff of Rare Books and Special Collections and the Blackader-Lauterman Library.