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Art Deco collection shows power of art and design


Following Hawke's Bay’s shattering earthquake of 1931, which razed much of the city to the ground, Napier began the mammoth task of rebuilding. Not simply ‘remaking’ Napier, residents set out to create a new city that reflected the times, while incorporating its own unique identity. Architecture and design were the vehicles through which that was achieved.

At the time many other countries were undergoing the same transformative process. Being in the throes of the Great Depression and still recovering from the First World War, countries sought to revitalise their national identity in a way that celebrated modernity and progress.

The global phenomenon that became known as Art Deco was a design ethos that had the vision to enable that. Art Deco was an architecture, design and art approach that formed around key historical developments. Alongside the political and economic conditions of the day, advances in transport saw a fascination with modernity. This was reinforced by advances in manufacturing where new materials made design accessible to the rich and the not so rich.

The beauty of Art Deco was that it incorporated ideals of optimism and luxury, while being able to translate the economic hardships of the 1930s into more subdued and functional designs.

Countries were also able express their nationalistic ideals through the principles of Art Deco design. While the movement conveyed an unprecedented sense of internationalism, in part by incorporating the design forms of Indigenous cultures, countries were also looking to their own first peoples to create a vision that was unique to their country.

Miami Art Deco architecture incorporated the design of Latin America cultures, Cuban Art Deco buildings are inspired by traditional Cuban design and Shanghai’s Deco district incorporates Chinese design. Rebuilt in the distinctive Art Deco style many of Napier's building facades incorporate Māori design elements of Kowhaiwhai and Taniko.

One of a few places that is built in the style of Art Deco, in the decades since its reconstruction Te Matau-a-Māui has drawn visitors from around the world to experience its architecture and design and all the stories held in it.

For that reason, it is important that MTG Hawke’s Bay Museum Tai Ahuriri continues adding depth to the stories of this region’s recovery from a devastating disaster, the optimism of the rebuild and how that connected to the global circumstances of the time.

MTG has a small but fascinating Art Deco collection and this year the museum will be making a temporary display case of the works they own from renowned glassmaker René Lalique, to run through the Art Deco Festival.

The museum’s Lalique collection is a great reminder of the transformative power of art and design. Lalique's intricate glassware and sculptures, with their geometric motifs drawn from nature, more than reflected the style - they were instrumental in the development of it. As such they echo the spirit of innovation and creativity that defined the region’s reconstruction nearly a century ago.

Lalique glass connects Hawke’s Bay to a broader global design story. René Lalique left an indelible mark on the world of decorative arts. Technologically of their time, the works on display are unique designs that became accessible through developments of manufacturing in the 1930s. This vase called ‘Camaret’ is named after a small fishing village in Lalique’s home country, France. 

But perhaps most importantly, the Lalique collection expresses the design principals of Art Deco in domestic ware and by seeing Art Deco expressed in a range of contexts we can really begin to understand its reach and impact.

The Museum’s display case of René Lalique glass is on from today until 3 March 2024.

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today newspaper 10 February 2023 and written by Toni MacKinnon, Art Curator at MTG Hawke’s Bay.

Image: Vase, Camaret by René Lalique. Collection of Hawke’s Bay Museum’s Trust, Ruawharo-Tā-Tū-rangi [100013]. All rights reserved by Lalique.

14 February 2024

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