Nearly a century later, the opulence, design, and free-wheeling fun of the 1920s continues to captivate Americans’ interest. But though a flapper lifestyle may be long gone, those hoping to capture a glimpse of the Jazz Age’s glamorous aesthetic should make a trip to the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum for The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s.
The Jazz Age, which is produced in conjunction with the Cleveland Museum of Art, celebrates the 1920s and its visuals in all forms, drawing on fashion, architecture, graphic design, furniture, and more to capture the era’s luxurious aesthetic. The exhibition’s main floor is divided into six sections: The Persistence of Traditional "Good Taste," A New Look for Familiar Forms, Bending the Rules, A Smaller World, Abstraction and Reinvention, and Toward a Machine Age.
While these main sections have an American focus, the exhibition’s second, smaller floor puts the spotlight on the influence of international designers, particularly the artistic output from the Paris 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes.
“Exploring the significant impact of European influences, the explosive growth of American cities, avant-garde artistic movements, new social mores and the role of technology, ‘The Jazz Age’ will seek to define the American spirit of the period,” Cooper Hewitt Director Caroline Baumann said in a statement. “[The] exhibition will delight the eye, draw connections across media and present a new narrative for art and design in this vibrant era.”
Though many associate the 1920s with well-trodden visions of Art Deco and beaded flapper dresses, The Jazz Age demonstrates just how diverse and rich the era’s designs were. The exhibition showcases ornate furniture and decorations spotlighting the classical influences on the period, while also looking towards the future with early 1930s artifacts and the “machine age” visuals of the era’s later years. The Jazz Age was a fertile time of varied design aesthetics, the Cooper Hewitt’s exhibition makes clear, and artists were going far beyond the nostalgic picture we have of it today.
But those looking for the opulence and elegant design best associated with the era will find it here in all its glory. The Jazz Age is a visual feast of design, offering sleek interiors and furniture, stunning high-class fashion, and bold graphic designs that are sure to entrance any fan of the period’s aesthetic. The exhibition touches on the performing arts, architecture, fashion, nightlife, and more, demonstrating how all these separate areas of society offered glorious visuals of their own. Though The Jazz Age succeeds at showing just how diverse the era was, it also offers a comprehensive view of how all these different corners of American life came together to define the era through its design. The exhibition asserts how 1920s America created the lavish, memorable visual world that still sticks in our collective memory nearly 100 years later—and why we’re all the luckier that it does.
The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s will be on view at Cooper Hewitt through August 20, 2017. For more information, visit cooperhewitt.org.