The adjective that would best sum up the 1920's would probably be experimental and the 1920's art scene was certainly no exception to that.
The art of the 1920’s was as much a reflection of post-war trauma as the faltering morality of the age.
The art of the prior decades was for the most part, intrinsically realistic, both impressionism and expressionism movements were defined by faded edges and blotchy colors that were slightly abstract, but all were easily recognizable as specific objects or scenes as a whole.
This was completely thrown out the window in the 1920's.
World War I ended in 1918 when Germany surrendered, but the effects of the war were certainly felt by the impending decades culture, especially the art.
The Art Deco style inspired everything from the paintings of Tamara Lempicka and Coco Chanel's jewelry to the Chrysler Building In Manhattan. Technology made the repeated patterns available to a more industrial minded culture.
Fashion showed the heavy influence of Art Deco during the 1920s.
Though Art Deco style wasn't actually even named as an art style until the 1960s, the influence of the style can be seen starting around 1925.
In paintings like Pablo Picasso’s "Guitar on Pedestal" of the early 1920’s art cubism movement, we see the effects of what was later deemed the “Cubist” movement; no longer was a single viewpoint used to create realistic copies of nature and the human form.
Monochromatic geometrical shapes and abstract planes and lines showed the abandonment of pre-war standards. Cubes of color and gray created landscapes and tower-like structures.
The human forms and still life paintings of Picasso almost jutted out from the page rife with fierce angles and abstract impressions of reality.
Picasso said of the movement he pioneered,
“When we discovered Cubism, we did not have the aim of discovering Cubism. We only wanted to express what was in us.”
Picasso and Leonide Messine
What seems apparent in these Cubist works is the complex emotions captured in this modern style. It’s almost as if the objects in these works have been through war themselves, that they have been broken down, destroyed, and then built back up in layers of paint.
Another avant-garde creative movement that surfaced in the 1920’s was the artistic anarchy of the “Dadaists” – a style that made a mockery of materialists, traditionalists, politicians, and whatever else the masses deemed to be high art.
“Dadaism” was more than art. It became a poem, a dance, a sculpture, an expression against the naïve and the mundane. “Revolted by the butchery of the 1914 World War,” artist Hans Arp later wrote, “We in Zurich devoted ourselves to the arts."
While the guns rumbled in the distance, we sang, painted, made collages and wrote poems with all our might.” With their “readymades,” ordinary objects were presented as artworks, Dadaists defied all forms of that which was conventional and expected.
The modern-day example of a truly Dada endeavor would be the recent work of Maurizio Cattlelan, entitled “Comedian,” one of the most talked about pieces of art exhibited in 2019 that seemed to be nothing more than a banana taped to the gallery wall with duct tape. The first iteration of the work sold for $120,000 at Art Basel Miami Beach and created a viral frenzy online.
The sale of the artwork caused disgust among the general public and the sum paid was regarded as illogical and unreasonable to many. much as the contemporaries of the decades prior to the 1920's would object to the readymade art of Dada.
"Comedian" is a modern example of a Dada-like art piece
Dadaists of the 1920’s sought to show that pre-war landscapes and art forms could never again be realized appropriately post-war, especially when what war left was so fragmented, ravaged, and disillusioned.
Therefore, they embraced the ideas of chance and highlighted the follies and less admirable qualities of humankind.
The destruction of art became art as the nightmare of the war’s ruins cast its heavy gaze in every corner. But where there are nightmares, there are also dreamscapes.
Surrealism, although it was conceived alongside Dada, picked up on the areas where Dada floundered (the movement was just a little too abstract and encompassed too many different forms of art to remain relevant), and artists like Salvador Dalí (Spain) and René Magritte (France) began to pictorially unravel the subconscious and unconscious.
Apparatus and Hand is a perfect representation of Impressionist art
For Dalí , this meant exploring alternative realities where clocks fall limp and drip off corners and ledges.
In his painting Apparatus and Hand one can see the birth of Dalí’s later surrealistic endeavors.
In a sea of deep blue, a strange geometric sculpture rests on a cane in a human-like stance and floats on a rectangle in the middle of nowhere.
The object is crowned with a hand resembling a heart reaching out to the sky filled with abstract images that could possibly reflect desire: a woman’s torso with no head, red ventricular shapes.
During this time period, upon his return from the war at age 23, Dalí began reading Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams and experimenting with his ideas in his work. Like a hallucination on a page, disjointed and unrelated objects seem to represent inner turmoil, each element battling for representation.
Whether represented in cubes, dreams, or id vs. super-ego – one thing remains constant in these early post-war artistic movements is the creation of expression the new reality of a world in the process of healing.