Art Deco. The France-China Connection
Written by: International
Category: Culture

Hong Kong - The Art Deco style, which flourished in Europe, Asia, and the Americas from the1920s to the 1940s, was born in France and named after the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts held in Paris. Art Deco came on the heels of Art Nouveau (an elaborate and ornate style) and offered in contrast geometric, simple, and energized shapes that pleased one and all.

The history of Art Deco in China, and of the reciprocal influences between French and Chinese artists, still remains to be written. In its modest way, this exhibition hopes to initiate this project, while also proposing fruitful paths for future exploration. The exhibition "Art Deco" focuses, first, on the origins of Art Deco in France, then on its shared influences with China (French designers and craftsmen were inspired by Chinese art and techniques), and finally on its development in China.

Art Deco in China

With the end of the Qing Dynasty and the establishment of the first Republic, China began to open up more to the outside world. Shanghai, with its strategic geographical and commercial position, became the Art Deco capital, ahead of Guangzhou, Hong Kong, and Nanjing; this, of course, was still at a time when the only entry point of foreign goods was through commercial maritime ports. Shanghai’s foreign concessions, established for the growing foreign communities, brought with them a cosmopolitanism that fostered rich cultural exchanges. As a result, Shanghai boasted an abundance of hotels, casinos, cinemas, built by Hungarian, British, French, as well as by young Chinese architects, all educated either in France or the United States. In these cities, a new society began to flourish, one that embraced a modernity already becoming international. Chinese returning from abroad brought with them a style of living that was quickly adopted by city dwellers: engineers, industrialists, shop owners, intellectuals and artists—this was the new middle-class enthralled by innovation. Alongside the espousal of the new came an appropriation of the foreign style. Art Deco’s ability to blend in with each country’s distinctive culture remained the key to its success and originality. Its geometric and simplified forms could be adapted at will while retaining a distinctive look. Very quickly, Chinese artists developed their own, modern Art Deco based on the beauty of their written characters and of their local plants and flowers.

Art Deco’s forms captured the spirit of the modern age (cars, aeroplanes, electricity, telephones), and was embraced across the globe. From Canada, the United States and Brazil, to Australia and Asia, French architects and designers built banks, cinemas, grand hotels, even palaces and private dwellings. Over time, local architects adapted the fundamental features of Art Deco to their own culture. Even the young Chinese republic, led by Sun Yat-sen, adopted Art Deco from 1929 on. Therein resided the movement’s originality and resilience. (Until July 21, 2019)