Summer Research Report: Alisa Chiles
Alisa Chiles, a PhD candidate in Art History at the University of Pennsylvania, studies the artistic competition between France and Germany in the early 20th century, specifically in the decorative arts and architecture presented at several major international exhibitions in the run up to the 1930 salon of the Société des artistes décorateurs. This was the first time German and French modern decorative arts were exhibited in the same location in almost two decades. A Decorative Arts Trust Summer Research Grant helped Alisa consult archives at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, the Bibliothèque Nationale, and the Bibliothèque Kandinsky in Paris.
“Thanks to the generous support of the Decorative Arts Trust, I had the opportunity to conduct necessary archival work in Paris this summer for my dissertation, ‘On Duels and Designs: French and German Modernism at the Deutscher Werkbund Exhibition, Paris 1930.’ My dissertation examines the Deutscher Werkbund’s 1930 exhibition in Paris as a lens to understand how national identity and the intense commercial, political, and artistic rivalry between France and Germany stimulated the invention of new artistic forms in the first decades of the 20th century. This Franco-German rivalry produced a variety of modernisms rather than the singular international language that was often heralded.
“My summer research centered on my second dissertation chapter, which contextualizes the 1930 exhibition that was held at the 20th-annual Parisian salon of the Société des artistes décorateurs. This was the culmination of a series of exhibitions in which France attempted to prevent Germany from usurping their international leadership in the decorative arts, including the 1900 Exposition Universelle and the 1925 Art Deco exhibition, both of which were held in Paris. My goal was to study the previous salons of the Société des artistes décorateurs and examine the wealth of planning documents and objects pertaining to the critically important 1925 Art Deco exhibition. The 1925 exhibition played a significant role in the planning and execution of the 1930 show and unveiled the French’s strategy to strongly promote luxury production as the best answer to German superiority in mass production.
“The most valuable archives I visited were at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, which contains photographs, planning documents, and articles written by designers and decorators who participated in the 1925 Art Deco exhibition. Of particular interest were the detailed files on each country’s pavilion at the 1925 show. The records on the Austrian pavilion, including the objects displayed and drawings of the building designed by Josef Hoffmann, offered insight into the shared design sensibility pervasive in the German-speaking countries at the time. Additionally, it was invaluable to view many of the French decorative art objects and architectural elements displayed in 1925. I was especially interested to see the Musée des Arts Décoratif’s installation of Pierre Chareau’s office-library for a French embassy, which was meant to exude luxurious modernity.
“The Musée des Arts Décoratifs also contained records on the previous salons of the Société des artistes décorateurs, which revealed the conservative tendencies of the society and helped illuminate the causes of the split with more avant-garde members like Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand, and René Herbst, who formed their own group in 1929, the Union des artistes modernes (UAM). Individual artist files on UAM members and the archives of their organization at both the Musée des Arts Décoratifs and the Bibliothèque Kandinsky further clarified the differing design philosophies on mechanization, industrial materials, and decoration held by members of this group. It was also beneficial to tour the building that houses the library of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, the Pavillon de Marsan, as this was the location of the UAM’s inaugural exhibition in 1930. It was held nearly simultaneously with the Deutscher Werkbund’s 1930 exhibition across town and shared many of the same design strategies.
“I am grateful to the Decorative Arts Trust for facilitating my research this summer, which allowed me to better understand the French decorative arts and design scenes in the years leading up to the Deutscher Werkbund 1930 show. This would not have been possible without your generous support.”
The support of members of the Trust’s Emerging Scholars Program enables important research like Alisa’s, and we look forward to following her progress! Participants in past programs have encountered the work of many of these seminal designers and architects (particularly during our summer tour of “The Jazz Age” exhibition at the Cooper-Hewitt, and our visit to Germany’s Bauhaus in 2015), and we look forward to seeing more of these masterpieces during upcoming travels in Prague and Vienna.