Art Deco and Archaeology
July 6, 2018 12:09 PM   Subscribe

What do Art Deco and Archaeology have in common? Quite a bit, if you look at enough Art Deco architecture. The artistic movement spanned from the early 1900s in France and lasted until 1945, when the austerity of World War II making the lavish decorations seem gaudy. In the peak of the Deco period, King Tut's tomb was rediscovered in 1922, leading to the marriage of ancient Egyptian design and Art Deco. There were other diverse and "exotic" influences in Art Deco creations around the world, including African tribal design and forms, Mesoamerican forms and decoration, Greco-Roman relief, patterning and materials, and in the American Southwest, Pueblo Deco.

Where Howard Carter's (re)discovery of King Tutankhamun's tomb turned the once-forgotten king into an international celebrity and the very face of Egypt and it's past, broader African influences into Art Deco can be traced to a few years later at the Great Exposition of Decorative Arts (aka the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts of 1925) in Paris, where "the predominance of the negro motif was obvious among the really new and distinctive notes in interior decoration." It was here that the Style Moderne, presented at the Exposition, later became known as "Art Deco", after the name of the Expo.

Pueblo Deco is largely credited to Mary Jane Colter, whose design for the El Navajo Hotel in Gallup, New Mexico, made national news (previously). Her designs were seen as far west as Los Angeles' Union Station, where she brought Navajo design inside the station (Google Streetview panorama).

Mayan Revival architecture is the earliest of these cross-cultural influences, which could be drawn to the Pan American Union Building, designed by Paul Philippe Cret with a blending of styles (PDF):
The building, widely known as the House of the Americas, presents a series of dialogues—between function and aesthetic, artifice and nature, and perhaps most memorably, between the Classical architecture that defines much of the nation’s capital and the architectural traditions, both ancient and colonial, of Latin America. Ultimately, each of these dialogues serves as a metaphoric expression of the Organization of American States’ core values: exchange, negotiation, and cooperation.
Completed in 1910, with the Aztec garden and 2-story arcaded annex pavilion being completed in 1912, Latin American forms and design were brought to the public who visited the building and grounds in Washington, D.C.

If you're looking to find more worldly influences in Art Deco, you can wander around the buildings yourself: And this isn't even getting into jewelry, art, and objects in Art Deco styles that feature "exotic" influences, as seen coming from (PDF - 66 pg dissertation) and created in Japan.
posted by filthy light thief (21 comments total) 67 users marked this as a favorite
The former Las Vegas High School building is a kind of Deco termed "Aztec Moderne" (I guess a subset or sibling to Pueblo Deco?)
posted by rmd1023 at 12:36 PM on July 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Outstanding post! I can't wait to dig in once I'm on a much bigger screen.
posted by soren_lorensen at 12:40 PM on July 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

And who could forget the Hardware Wars character Artie Deco
posted by idiopath at 1:00 PM on July 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Ok, there goes the rest of my afternoon. Thanks!

One example of Southeast Asian influence is St. Louis's Fox Theater (self-link to pics).
posted by notsnot at 1:13 PM on July 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

I love Egyptian Revival architecture. There isn’t as much of it as Greek or Gothic so you have to prize what you find. There is a warehouse on the banks of the Mississippi in Memphis with an amazing poured concrete Egyptian facade. I remember it because my mom and I were lost, she didn’t feel safe, and she was angry at me — then all of a sudden there’s this building that’s utterly out of time, the most amazing thing in the city, practically abandoned. I tried to get her to go closer, but nothing doing. I’ll try to find it again.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:21 PM on July 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

Maybe the Ballard and Ballard Co. Obelisk Flour Building? Found at 325 Wagner St. in Memphis, with more details seen in this Google Streetview.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:28 PM on July 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

Exactly, yes, thank you! I was just about to say. It really looks impressive in sunset light.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:29 PM on July 6, 2018

It is impressive, and I could see how that's a surprising thing to find while driving around Memphis.

The first link is a good write-up on the building from the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) Archipedia, which currently has 166 examples of Art Deco.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:31 PM on July 6, 2018

I’m sorely disappointed in myself for never having made the connection between Howard Carter and Seattle’s Egyptian Theatre.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 2:02 PM on July 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

What a great post to dive into on a Friday afternoon (and over the weekend, most likely). This is one of those posts that has coincided in an almost eerie way with other things that I've been thinking about, since some of Mumbai's Art Deco architecture (combined with examples of its Victorian Gothic architecture) was just inscribed as a World Heritage Site on June 30.

If you want to get a better sense of what some of the Art Deco sites look like (the images on the UNESCO site are heavier on Victorian Gothic), Art Deco Mumbai hosts a photographic inventory of some of the buildings that can be searched by map or alphabetically.
posted by Anita Bath at 2:59 PM on July 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

I love Art Deco. And now that I live in Buffalo, I get to see many lovely examples of it (and FLW buildings too).
posted by biscotti at 4:15 PM on July 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

That California map is missing San Diego's contributions to the style.
posted by Iris Gambol at 4:52 PM on July 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh, for Arthur Deco-esque names, Zot! had villain "DEKKO", whose head was deco-tastic.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:17 PM on July 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Fabulous! Thanks.
posted by MovableBookLady at 6:11 PM on July 6, 2018

Mixed Egyptian:

I like this combination Egyptian, Bungalow, and perhaps Mission building: the Ft Thomas KY Masonic Lodge. At 37 N Ft Thomas Ave. The temple facade on google Street View
posted by jjj606 at 6:12 PM on July 6, 2018 [5 favorites]

Excellent post!
posted by Miko at 6:35 PM on July 6, 2018

Here in Tucson and surrounding areas we sometimes find some Art Deco stuff. We call it Art Gecko.
posted by azpenguin at 10:37 PM on July 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yowza, azpenguin.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:03 PM on July 6, 2018

Yowza, azpenguin

Oh yes, the Fox Theatre is absolutely incredible. Can’t help but stare at that ceiling while waiting for a performance to start. There’s some neat Art Deco houses scattered around.
posted by azpenguin at 6:19 AM on July 7, 2018

Whenever anyone asks me what they "must see" in Detroit, my #1 answer is always the Guardian Building. The late 1920s was arguably Detroit's golden age, and the Guardian and the Fisher Buildings were completed right before the crash. Sadly the "Mayan Revival" theater of the Fisher was remuddled with a mid-century design in 1961, although traces of the original decor still exist above the later ceilings.
posted by Preserver at 7:48 AM on July 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

What a delightful FPP, and thank you for filling up my morning. Now everybody look at my fave Art Deco building in San Francisco, which we all called 450 Suffer because it was full of dentists' offices.
posted by missmobtown at 8:26 AM on July 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

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