American Art Deco: Designing for the People, 1918–1939
6/5/2021 - 9/5/2021

American Art Deco: Designing for the People,1918–1939 investigates a dynamic period in American history and culture when the
country and its citizens went through political, economic, social, and artistic transformation and revolution. From stylish decorative art objects to products of industrial design, modern American paintings to compelling photographic images, the multi-media works of art in this exhibition reflect both the glamour and optimism of the 1920s and the marginalization, devastation, and escapism of
the 1930s.

Art Deco, short for arts décoratifs, took its name from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, held in Paris in 1925. It celebrated a new style characterized by geometric ornament, symmetry, stylization, and angularity, which developed globally with different variants. In the United States, it combined modern style with an embrace of rich materials and new technologies, influencing the design of everything from skyscrapers and automobiles to clothing and radios. American Art Deco offers an in-depth examination of the cultural context of this international style as it flourished in the United States between the World Wars. Primarily from Midwest collections, the 140-plus objects in this exhibition exemplify the Art Deco style yet underscore significant themes of the era, including the migration of designs and designers from Europe to the United States; industrial and technological advancement in the period following World War I; the changing profile of the modern woman; the rise of the middle class and consumer culture; and inequities in gender, race, and wealth.

The exhibition is arranged in ten thematic sections: Paris to America; American Art Deco; The New Woman; An Architectural Era; Art & Design; Streamline Modern; American Expansion; Economic Depression and Stimulus; Jazz Age—Culture of Change; and Modern Living. Highlights include glass by René Lalique and the Indiana Glass Company; sculpture by Paul Manship; ceramics by Frank L. Ferrell for Roseville Pottery Company; paintings by Aaron Douglas, Walter Dove, N.C. Wyeth, and Thomas Hart Benton; and photographs by Dorothea Lange and Carl Van Vechten. An array of everyday objects—from hats, compacts, and dresses to barware, clocks, and chairs—punctuates the exhibition.

American Art Deco: Designing for the People, 1918-1939 premieres at Joslyn Art Museum, a landmark of Art Deco architecture, during its ninetieth anniversary (June 5–September 5, 2021). The exhibition will then travel to Frist Art Museum (Nashville, TN; October 8, 2021-January 2, 2022), Wichita Art Museum (Wichita, KS; February 12-May 30, 2022), and The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (Kansas City, MO; July 9, 2022-January 8, 2023).

This exhibition is organized by Joslyn Art Museum and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO. Major lender to the exhibition is Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, Denver, CO. Key loans from Kirkland Museum join loans from Fisk University Galleries and John Hope and Aurelia E. Franklin Library, Fisk University, Nashville, TN; Kansas City Museum, MO; Sheldon Museum of Art, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Wichita Art Museum, KS; and several private collections, along with objects from the collections of the Nelson-Atkins and Joslyn for this special exhibition. The exhibition is curated by Catherine Futter, Ph.D. (formerly Director of Curatorial Affairs at the Nelson-Atkins, now Interim Director of Curatorial Affairs and Senior Curator, Decorative Arts, at Brooklyn Museum) and coordinated at Joslyn Art Museum by Taylor J. Acosta, Ph.D., Willis A. Strauss Curator of European Art.

What's Pictured: Thomas Hart Benton (American, 1889–1975), Discovery, 1920, from the series, American Historical Epic, 1920–28, oil on canvas mounted on aluminum honeycomb panel, 60 1/16 x 42 1/8 in., The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Bequest of the artist, F75-21/1. © T.H. Benton and R.P. Benton Testamentary Trusts/UMB Bank, Trustee/Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York