I’ve always loved Art Deco and I’ve got the books to prove it. But I’ll be packing most of them off to the re-seller now that I’ve got Art Deco Complete, a tome that lives up to its title and makes nearly all other books on the subject redundant. Okay, maybe I’ll hold onto Art Deco and Modernist Carpets because it’s such a niche area, and Art Deco Complete has nothing to say about the architecture of the era; the book professes to be “the definitive guide to the decorative arts of the 1920s and 1930s” and it backs up the boast.
Author Alastair Duncan focuses almost exclusively on French designers and the European expats who claimed Paris as their own during the fecund period between the World Wars. And if the Americans are largely MIA — only Donald Desky (Radio City Music Hall) merits a section of his own — it’s because the U.S. did not exhibit at the 1925 Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, which gave the movement its name.
Gorgeous, colour reproductions of museum pieces from collections around the globe have been aggregated and lovingly arranged in well-balanced layouts that make it obvious why Deco style continues to have such a hold on the design world nearly a century later. The biggest names — Jean-Michel Frank, Jean Dunand, Eileen Gray, Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann, Cartier, René Lalique — get their own sections within chapters dedicated to furnishings, sculpture, glass, painting, ceramics, lighting, textiles and jewelry. A comprehensive designer index highlights the work of second tier but still highly accomplished craftspeople.
Duncan knows his subject well having been Christies’s resident expert on the style from 1977 – 1990. His writing is to-the-point without being academic or overly effusive and he includes essential info as well as gossipy tidbits, for instance about the artist Tamara De Lempicka’s bisexual lifestyle, hence the homoerotic themes in some of her work. Or did you know that Jean-Michel Frank was the cousin of Anne Frank whose diary became a holocaust classic?
Art Deco Complete is more than 500 pages and contains over 1,000 colour photographs of some of the most lavish and exquisitely detailed furnishings and decorative pieces ever made. With a sky-high list price of $162.50 CAD the book would never have made it onto my shelf except I happened upon a copy at Toronto’s BMV for just $39.99 ($107.25 online through ChaptersIndigo.ca). Lucky me, I love this book and nearly as important, it looks fantastic on my coffee table.