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Art Nouveau at Musée d'Orsay

23 Text: Tiffany Tang

By tracing the origin of Art Nouveau in Paris and explaining how the movement developed and spread across the continent, the “Art Nouveau Revival” exhibition in Musée d’Orsay displays a collection of works that best epitomize the different phases of the movement.

The Art Nouveau movement started at the turn of the nineteenth century, but it was met with decades of rejection until the 1960s. The original movement was a reaction against historicism and traditional art in favor of a new style and form that adapted itself to modern life, blurring of boundaries between fine arts and applied arts, and combining the new aesthetics with functionalism. The new aesthetics were characterized by the use of organic floral styles and curved lines as ornamentation in furniture, jewelry and tableware. Originally termed in Paris as “new art,” Art Nouveau took on different names as its influence spread across Europe and to the United States: Jugendstil in Germany, Stile Liberty or Stile Floreale in Italy, Modernismo in Spain, and Nieuwe Kunst in Holland. 

Entering the exhibition space, spectators are greeted by the replica of the infamous “Montparnasse - Bienvenüe” metro entrance designed by Hector Guimard. Divided into five sections, the first room shows the surrealists’ evocation of the Art Nouveau in the 1930s with the publication Dalí’s article in the magazine Minotaur, illustrated by the photographs of Man Ray and Brassaï which referenced the works of Guimard and Gaudi. The second section explains how the movement evolved into an organic style, with the appropriation of flora and fauna, the female figure, and the exploration of the new materials such as glass fiber and plastic. The interpretation of “organic”, in view with modernity, has later come to signify objects and designs that compromise the practical and spiritual needs of a modern man. The third section brings us to the movement in the United States in relation to psychedelic art, where the Art Nouveau design adorned the covers of music albums and posters of pop and rock concerts. The recurring themes include women with long flowing hair, peacocks, as well as androgynous figures, and the designs were characterized by the fluidity of lettering that merges with the images in an explosion of colors.   Also  explored is the period when Art Nouveau became highly fashionable, following the exhibition of Aubrey Beardsley and Alphonse Mucha at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in the 60s.

The exhibition is also accompanied by a film festival named “Décors et délires”, showing well-known films in the 60s and 70s associated with Art Nouveau.

Musée d’Orsay
Until 4 February  2024
Film festival “Décors et délires”
8 - 17 January 2024

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