Tag Archives: art nouveau

on past times and art nouveau

Saturday 31 March 2012

the other day i went to see a new exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre, The First Moderns: Art Nouveau, from Nature to Abstraction, which coincided with the excellent BBC three part series, Sex and Sensibility : The Allure of Art Nouveau, written and presented by Stephen Smith.

so, having watched two of the three art nouveau programmes i was predisposed to enjoy my visit to this exhibition…

dear reader, please, take a seat. the minimalist architecture of the sainsbury centre (designed by sir norman foster) provided a very modernist reflection on the development of art nouveau, a style often associated with the earlier ‘back to nature’ rustic aesthetic of the arts & crafts movement (william morris). however, most evident here in charles rennie mackintosh’s black lacquered chair is the japanese aesthetic influence, leading on to the harmonic, simplified design elements seen in de stijl, bauhaus, and later still, in minimalism…

it was interesting to reflect on the universal, recurring themes of nature and creation in art, from paganism and celtic symbols to the free-flowing abstract patterns of 1960’s psychedelia. as in life, so in art. nature is rarely far removed from the subject of art..

[emille gallé, glass vase]

i liked looking at and contemplating this glass vase; glass is the perfect medium to express ideas of nature & renewal, from its molten materiality and fluidity of lines to the way its solid form attracts, consumes and reflects the light, the light of life itself – it really glows (and grows on you).

minimalism rejected the motifs of nature and, later on, conceptualism had no need to show the ‘appearance’ or a likeness of nature to express a new idea about it. so, i wonder, have we now lost touch with nature? and, perhaps more importantly, what is nature, exactly?

this exhibition reaffirmed how elements of nature continuously feed into art and design (even now, in this brutal, austere age) and i will visit again as the exhibition is on until december 2012.

so, naturally enough, when i later had the opportunity to take an leisurely walk through the fine city’s royal arcade it was with revitalised and more knowing eyes…

i learnt, via the bbc programme, that these tiles were designed and manufactured by a company called ‘daltons’, who also created the mosaics in one of harrod’s foodhalls. this really is a fine example of art nouveau in architecture, perhaps even better than paris…

however, on leaving the spendidly preserved tiled architecture of the ‘royal arcade’, a small sign of modern day reality was waiting directly opposite, as if to quietly express, just in passing, nothing lasts forever

‘this store is now closed’ (repeat, closed) – a sad sign of the times, past times indeed…

past times, as its name suggests, traded on a nostalgia for historical, old-looking things (homewares, accessories). i once received the gift of a drawstring brocaded handbag which came from ‘past times‘; it was obviously a brand new handbag but it had a bohemian aesthetic or style which one might easily associate with the pre-raphaelites, and i liked it…

while on my way out of the fine city, i spotted this architectural abstraction, comprised of metal, plywood and some panes of glass – but it’s just a redundant office block. it is always fascinating to discover mundane, semi-derelict buildings looking ready for redevelopment (or total destruction) which unintentionally reflect a very pared-down, minimalist aesthetic – wood veneer never really goes out of style…

[an office block in modern times]