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Musée d'Orsay Revives Art Nouveau in Exhibition Opening Today
Clovis Trouille, Le Palais des Merveilles, Hommage au Modern'Style, 1907-1927-1960. La Celle-les-Bordes, collection particulière © Photo Claude Caroly © Adagp, Paris 2009.

PARIS.- Rejected and scorned in the decades following its brief flowering, Art Nouveau was spectacularly rehabilitated in the 1960s. This re-evaluation offers a particularly interesting interlude in the history of style in that many different areas were affected at the same time by this phenomenon: the history of art, the art market, contemporary creative work, particularly design and graphics.

The exhibition aims to show how this rediscovery moved in various directions, and how it fitted into the spirit of the time. The great exhibitions 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), that accorded Art Nouveau a place comparable with the other great artistic movements of the time – Impressionism, Symbolism, Fauvism and Cubism – were the first manifestations of this official recognition. However, their interpretations of forms were often reductive and limited to a simplistic contrast between straight line/ curved line. Moreover, they did not establish any relationship between the biomorphic, abstract forms of Guimard, Gaudí, Van de Velde, Bugatti, Pankok, Riemerschmid and Eckmann and the preoccupation of organic design that appeared at the end of the 1930, demonstrated by leading figures like Alvar Aalto, Charles Eames, Tapio Wirkkala and Carlo Mollino. Similarly, the Surrealists’ early enthusiasm for Art Nouveau is ignored by historians of architecture, more concerned with modern Rationalism.

Section I – Tributes by the Surrealists
In December 1933, an article by Salvador Dalí appeared in The Minotaur: “On the Terrifying and Edible Beauty of Modern Style Architecture”, illustrated with photographs by Man Ray and Brassaï, and with André Breton’s “The Automatic Message”, establishing a link between “medianimique” messages and the Modern style. This approach was essentially led by the architecture of Guimard, most notably the Metro entrances, and that of Gaudi.

Moreover, Dali was very enthusiastic about the paintings of Clovis Trouille who also featured the Metro prominently in his wild paintings. Visitors enter this part of the exhibition through a replica of the canopied metro entrance of the Montparnasse- Bienvenüe Metro station.

Section II – Organic design
In 1941, the Museum of Modern Art in New York exhibited the results of the Organic Design in Home Furnishings competition, the term “organic” referring to the fluidity of forms and the adaptation of form to man’s needs, two criteria already set out by the Art Nouveau movement. In the years that followed, designers, particularly those in the 1960s, would reveal a desire, similar to that of the Art Nouveau creators, to give their furnishings and objects an uninterrupted, linear rhythm, and to bring back into the home environment abstract shapes inspired by various kinds of living things. New materials – polyester, fibreglass, polyurethane, jersey and stretch fabrics, enabled creators at the time to produce forms with a perfect fluidity and rhythmic continuity that the Art Nouveau creators had not been able to achieve for want of technical means. From this point of view, it is more a question here of affinity than filiation. There is no intention to establish artificially a possible connection back to any particular Art Nouveau model, but to use a comparison of creative works from the Art Nouveau period and from the 1950s and 70s to bring out their shared interests in form, plasticity and environment.

Section III – Psychedelic Art
In 1966, the first psychedelic posters were seen in San Francisco, having first appeared in connection with the rock and pop concerts organised by Bill Graham. They present striking affinities with the graphic works of Art Nouveau, whose aesthetic attributes were enhanced through LSD. The recurring themes of hair and of the peacock, the androgynous figure or, at the other extreme, highly sexual figures, the fusion of text and image, distending and distorting typographical characters, alternating passion and tenderness within the same composition, are all features common to the creative work of both eras.

Section IV – C'est à la mode !
Very quickly, Art Nouveau became fashionable. The way this trend of the time was expressed is illustrated through a variety of elements. In 1966, the highly successful exhibition of Aubrey Beardsley’s work at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London provoked a craze for this artist whose creative works involved a wide range of media. From the early 1960s, film sets contributed to the rehabilitation of Art Nouveau, whether in films set in 1900 – for example Landru (1962), Judex (1963), La Ronde (1964), Hibernatus (1969) – or films in a contemporary setting – Les Barbouzes (1964), La Métamorphose des Cloportes (1965), What’s New Pussy Cat? (1965), Cannabis (1969), etc. In 1967 a production of Georges Feydeau’s A Flea in Her Ear was presented at the Théâtre Marigny, with a set that was entirely Art Nouveau. In 1968, Pierre Koralnik filmed Oscar Wilde’s Salomé for television amongst Gaudi’s architecture in Barcelona. This section of the exhibition is rounded off with documents relating to the place of Art Nouveau in daily life. Women’s magazines (Elle, Vogue, etc), men’s magazines (Playboy, Nouvel Adam, etc) and magazines aimed at teenagers (Salut les copains, Mademoiselle Âge tendre, etc) provide many examples of this major return of Art Nouveau into everyday life: textile and wallpaper patterns were brought back; fashion boutiques (Biba in London, Ram-Dam in Paris, etc) were designed in this style; the turn-of-the-century chignon reappeared, along with noodle-style accessories, and long, flowing dresses, etc.

Section V - Nature
The last room is devoted to the return of naturalist elements in interior design, beginning in the early 1970s. The display is based around techniques in metalworking and the mirrors that Yves Saint Laurent commissioned from Claude Lalanne.

Musée d'Orsay | Art Nouveau | History of Style |

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