The Frist Art Museum celebrates Art Deco’s imprint on history, art and architecture

To close the celebration of its 20th anniversary, the Frist Art Museum will look back on the era of its own building with the exhibition “American Art Deco: Designing for the People, 1918-1939”.

Think of it as a selfie from the Frist Art Museum, if you will.

Originally designed as the headquarters of the post office in 1934, the building itself is a poster for the art deco movement of the 1920s and 1930s with its various colors of marble often displayed in geometric shapes and its cast iron doors and grilles. aluminum.

Senior curator Katie Delmez said the timing for this exhibit was intentional to honor and celebrate the historic building which narrowly escaped demolition before being restored and reopened as the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in 2001.

“Art Deco is a style that has manifested itself on this side of the pond that is most ubiquitous in architecture,” she said. “We open the show with a large graphic of the Chrysler Building. Architecture is difficult to include in an exhibition, but we certainly wanted to highlight one of the most iconic buildings in the world to remind everyone of that touchstone.

While art deco is prevalent in architecture, it has also infiltrated art and life. The style was also widely used in decorative applications which Delmez says many of us saw in our grandparents’ homes.

This Modernique Click in chrome, enamel and brush polished silver metal from 1928 is an example of how the art deco movement has manifested itself in everything from architecture and art to everyday objects like clocks, radios and even vacuum cleaners.  The minimal design, straight lines and use of metals are hallmarks of the art deco movement of the 1920s and 1930s.

“Besides the wide range of fine art including paintings, prints, sculptures, furniture, glassware and metal objects in this exhibit, we have everyday items like a vacuum cleaner and a radio,” said Delmez. “We wanted to show that this movement is even evident in things that are supposed to be functional on a daily basis. “

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Ups and downs – yesterday and today

The exhibition examines not only the glamor and optimism of the 1920s, but also the impact of the Great Depression in the 1930s, which is why art deco is such an important era in the history of the world and American art.

And Delmez does not forget that there are so many parallels between this period in history and what we are experiencing today.

A hallmark of the art deco movement is that it has infiltrated everyday life as evidenced by this Electrolux vacuum cleaner designed in 1937. It incorporates the chrome metals and aluminum of the time as well as clean lines and minimalist design.

“The range of works in this exhibition allows the public to consider both the optimism and glamor of this moment in our country’s history and the devastation and discrimination that was also prevalent,” she said. declared. “I have been struck on several occasions in preparation for this show by the way life is today as it was in the 1920s and 1930s. Just like after World War I, we are learning to live with a pandemic that made deaths. There was racial unrest during this time. The KKK was on the rise and there were many marches protesting this and protesting discrimination against African Americans. There were waves of refugees fleeing and immigrants seeking a better life here in the United States

“During the Depression, there was a lot of debate about the role of government and infrastructure. Both eras have seen new forms of communication. It was radio then and social media now. There are so many connections between that time and the present moment. I feel like, as we really try to navigate this seemingly unprecedented moment, I find it somewhat reassuring to think that our country has been through challenges like this before. It put that moment into perspective.

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Less is more

While art deco reflects the best and worst moments in our history, it is also a nod to a great era of invention in the age of the machine. Art Deco is characterized by its rationality and elegance, without any fussy ornamentation, which, according to Delmez, stemmed from the growing interest of the time in modernity and machines.

“Art Deco is very different from its predecessors, which were all focused on luxury and ornamentation,” she said. “In France, luxury materials were often used, but a key distinction between what was made here and in France is that the items here were made in a similar style, but with cheaper materials. Something would be made of ivory in France, but chrome here, which would make it more accessible to a middle class. People know about art deco and I think that’s because a lot of average people may have had an example of something in the art deco style in their home.

Popular art deco designs are zigzag patterns, sunbeams, stylized flower sprays (like the top of the Chrysler Building in New York City), and radiating circles with triangles. With art deco, Delmez says that the straight line has become a thing of beauty.

The Chrysler Building in New York is one of the most iconic art deco buildings in the world.

“In many ways it was a rejection of the new art that was all about the curve,” she said. “There was so much ornamentation before Art Deco, but it changed and became geometric shapes around that time. Even the human form is portrayed as angular and streamlined, which is a real change from the past. “

The Nashville Connection

The exhibition features several works by Aaron Douglas, an American artist associated with the Harlem Renaissance. In 1930 he came to Nashville from New York to create a series of murals for Fisk University. A decade later, he established the art department at Fisk, where he taught for the next 26 years.

Delmez thought it would be important to include some of Douglas’s work in this exhibition. She contacted the Fisk Gallery to explore the possibility of loaning certain works from their collection to this exhibition. Twelve articles from Fisk are part of the exhibit, which will visit Kansas City and Omaha, Neb., In addition to Nashville.

“Aaron Douglas plays such an important role in the story, so I’m delighted that we were able to add works from the Nashville collections to this exhibit throughout his tour,” she said. “It’s a wonderful way to showcase Nashville during this time.”

This 1930 Ford Model A is in mint condition and on loan to the Frist Art Museum to be part of its exhibition

Delmez did not stop there. Because it was a time when Americans moved thanks to the assembly line, she thought it would be important to add a car to the show.

Thanks to the efforts of Delmez and the generosity of The Dishner Family Collection, the exhibit contains a loaned 1930 Ford Model A which is found to be in mint condition.

If you are going to

What: “American Art Deco: designing for the people 1918-1939”

Or: Ingram Gallery at the Frist Art Museum, 919 Broadway, Nashville

When: until January 2; hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday and 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $ 15 for adults, $ 10 for seniors and students, free for those 18 and under

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