A truffle hound with a Nikon, Arnold Schwartzman is constantly on the hunt for overlooked treasures, from the Jewish cemeteries of eastern Europe to the decorative riches of LA. He has produced a dozen picture books on his finds, culminating in this large-format feast of Deco gems from Europe, Australasia and the Americas. The brilliance of Art Deco, a style that flourished from the mid 1920s through the late 1930s, has been dimmed by over-exposure; here its luster is restored. As a graphic designer, Schwartzman has a gift for composition and a sharp eye for details that are hidden in plain view. I share his love for this era and kick myself for missing so much of what he found.

Nor could I match the clarity of his images of typography, bas reliefs, sculpture, and ceramics. Much of this period ornament appears fresh-minted, sharp-etched and tactile. And the period itself comes alive, from the Jazz Age fascination with planes, trains and ocean liners, to the joyous escapism of cinemas, hotels and cocktail bars that distracted from the grim realities of the Great Depression. Serious modernists stripped their building to the essentials, and Adolph Loos proclaimed that ornament equated crime. That makes these two decades the most crime-ridden of the last century, for Art Deco took the world by storm, and the language of zig-zag, stylized typography, Aztec masks and leaping gazelles found a place in grand and humble settings. It was a hedonistic, wildly popular art form, which took its name from the 1925 Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels in Paris, mutated and spread. A delight to the eye, this portfolio should open our eyes to the wonders that survive in every great city and prompt us to cherish this legacy.

Art Deco. Arnold Schwartzman. (Rizzoli International, $45)

Michael Webb

Author: Michael Webb

Michael Webb Hon. AIA/LA has authored more than twenty books on architecture and design, most recently Moving Around: A Lifetime of Wandering, Architects’ Houses, and Building Community: New Apartment Architecture, while contributing essays to many more. He is also a regular contributor to leading journals in the United States and Europe. Growing up in London, he was an editor at The Times and Country Life, before moving to the US, where he directed film programs for the AFI and curated a Smithsonian exhibition on Hollywood.

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