Art Nouveau Revival

Art Nouveau Revival
1900 • 1933 • 1966 • 1974
Musée d’Orsay
20 October 2009 – 4 February 2010

Rejected and reviled in the decades after its brief flowering, Art Nouveau enjoyed a spectacular rehabilitation in the 1960s. This re-evaluation is a particularly interesting episode in the history of taste because it occurred in several fields simultaneously: art history, the art market, and contemporary creation, and more specifically furniture and graphic design. The exhibition traces the various strands of the rediscovery and shows how it was in phase with the mood of the time.
The major exhibitions held in New York in 1959 (Art Nouveau. Art and Design at the Turn of the Century, The Museum of Modern Art) and in Paris in 1960 (Les Sources du XXe siècle. Les arts en Europe de 1884 à 1914, Musée national d’art moderne), which put Art Nouveau on a par with the other great art movements of the time – Impressionism, Symbolism, Fauvism, Cubism –, were the first signs of this official recognition. However their interpretations of Art Nouveau forms were often simplistic and restricted to a facile opposition between straight and curved lines. Moreover, they made no link between the biomorphic and abstract forms of Guimard, Gaudí, Van de Velde, Bugatti, Pankok, Riemerschmid, and Eckmann and the growing interest in organic design shown by major figures such as Alvar Aalto, Charles Eames, Tapio Wirkkala or Carlo Mollino in the late 1930s. By the same token, the Surrealists’ early enthusiasm for Art Nouveau was ignored by the
historians of architecture who focused on modern rationalism.

Section I – The Surrealists’ Tribute
In December 1933, two essays were published in Minotaure: Salvador Dalí’s “De la beauté terrifiante et comestible de l’architecture modern’style” illustrated with photos by Man Ray and Brassaï, and André Breton’s, “Le message automatique”, which established a link between medianimic messages and modern’style. Their argument was developed mainly through the architecture of Guimard – in particular the entrances to the Paris metro – and of Gaudí. The metro also figured largely in the frenzied work of Clovis Trouille, also admired by Dalí. Visitors enter this section of the exhibition through a reconstruction of the portico of the Montparnasse- Bienvenüe metro station.

Section II – Organic Design
In 1941, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, presented the result of the Organic Design in Home Furnishings competition. The word “organic” referred to the flexibility of form and its adaptation to the human requirements, two criteria already promoted by Art Nouveau. Later furniture designers, especially in the 1960s, showed the same interest in flowing lines and abstract forms borrowed from living creatures of all kinds. New materials: polyester, fibreglass, polyurethane, jersey, and stretch fabrics opened up possibilities for fluidity and rhythmic continuity not available to their predecessors. Here it is not a question of determining the reasons for this revival, but of comparing Art Nouveau creations with creative output from 1950 to 1970, in order to highlight their common interests in form, aesthetics and environmental issues.

Section III – Psychedelics
The first psychedelic posters appeared in San Francisco in 1966 in connection with Bill Graham’s rock and pop concerts. They have striking affinities with Art Nouveau graphic works, boosted by the hallucinatory effects of LSD. The emphasis on hair and peacocks, the androgynous or, on the contrary, exaggeratedly male or female figures, the fusion of text and image, the dilated, distorted lettering, vigour and lethargy in the same composition… are features shared by both periods.

Section IV – In vogue!
Art Nouveau quickly became fashionable. A variety of exhibits illustrate the new taste. After the immensely popular Aubrey Beardsley exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, in 1966, Beardsley designs appeared on all kinds of objects. In the early 1960s, film sets contributed to the Art Nouveau revival, whether the action took place in 1900 – Landru (1962), Judex (1963), La Ronde (1964), Hibernatus (1969) for example – or in a contemporary setting –Les Barbouzes (1964), La Métamorphose des cloportes (1965), What’s New Pussy Cat? (1965), Cannabis (1969)… The stage set for Georges Feydeau’s play La Puce à l’oreille at the Théâtre-Marigny in 1967 was entirely Art Nouveau. In 1968, Pierre Koralnik used Gaudí’s architecture in Barcelona as a backdrop for his television film of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé. Documents illustrating the impact of the new fashion on people’s lives are also exhibited here. Magazines targeting women (Elle, Vogue…), men (Play Boy, Nouvel Adam…) and teenagers (Salut les copains, Mademoiselle, Âge tendre…)
show how Art Nouveau infiltrated daily life through reprints of textile and wallpaper patterns; the decoration of fashion stores (Biba in London, Ram-Dam in Paris…); “1900” hairstyles, accessories with whiplash curves, “Grand Meaulnes” dresses and so on….

Section V – Naturalism
The last room focuses on the revival of natural features in interior design in the early 1970s, illustrated by wrought iron and the mirrors that Claude Lalanne designed for Yves Saint Laurent.

Curated by: Philippe Thiébaut, chief curator at the Musée d’Orsay.
Designed by: Mattia Bonetti, designer and decorator.
Mattia Bonetti designed the 2004 exhibition “Gallé, La Main aux algues et aux coquillages”, at the
Musée d’Orsay and won the “Best Original Design Award” in 2005.
Media partners: France 2, Marie Claire, 20 Minutes, RATP.

Musée d’Orsay