Arts & Entertainment

Miami Beach holding festival showcasing tropical “Art Deco” legacy

By Ana Mengotti

Miami, Jan 14 (efe-epa).- Miami Beach, Florida, is paying homage this week to its significant “Art Deco” heritage, a style that had its heyday between 1920-1939 and the annual cultural festival this year is being held – exclusively virtually – from Jan. 14-17.

In December 2020, President Donald Trump issued a controversial executive order just before he traveled to Florida for the Christmas holiday saying that only architectural styles that do not break with “Classical” (i.e. Ancient Greek and Roman) architecture are acceptable in buildings paid for with federal taxpayer funds.

The Art Deco style brought “modernity to the masses,” Silvia Barisione, the chief curator of The Wolfsonian-FIU museum in Miami Beach, told EFE. Her institution holds an important collection of tens of thousands of decorative and artistic objects and works from many different epochs.

The fact that the Art Deco designs became popular with the public in general via mass production with materials appropriate to the depressed economy after the 1929 crash is the theme of the conference that Barisione, who is of Italian origin, will host to open the cultural festival.

“The new styles of the ’20s and ’30s defined a new way of living at home … A new language among designers and manufacturers in Europe and the United States emerged that gradually gave form to an industrial esthetic that gave priority to functionality and simplicity over ornamentation,” she said.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Art Deco as “a popular design style of the 1920s and 1930s characterized especially by bold outlines, geometric and zigzag forms, and the use of new materials.”

It uses geometric shapes, ornamental lines and primary colors and the architectural components and materials can be easily mass produced.

Covid-19 is to blame for the fact that this year the festival will be exclusively virtual, and Miami Beach certainly is not beset with the throngs of tourists it normally has, although little by little their numbers are increasing, as one can see along Ocean Drive or Collins Avenue, two of the main streets in the city’s Art Deco district.

The theme of the 2021 festival is appropriate to the times: No Place Like Home.

Art Deco Weekend was founded in 1976 by the Miami Design Preservation League, founded by Barbara Baer Capitman, who was able to convince the community of the importance of preserving its architectural legacy, according to what Daniel Ciraldo, at present in charge of the organization, told EFE.

The MDPL, which finds itself in a struggle comparable to that of “David and Goliath,” became accustomed to the local pressure to demolish many of the local Art Deco buildings to construct newer, taller structures in South Florida’s main tourist zone, which in the 1980s was described as a “stolen paradise” due to the illegal drug trade and its associated violence.

Today, there are 2,600 buildings registered as historic in Miami and 14 “districts” with different architectural styles.

The Russell Pancoast building that houses the Bass Museum of Art and which in years past was the Miami Beach Public Library and Art Center is considered to be the first structure featuring the Art Deco style in the beachfront city.

The tropical environment provides additional beauty to an architectural style born in Europe in the “Roaring Twenties,” a style that in different places took on slightly different looks due to local tradition or building materials.

Ciraldo mentioned that Miami Beach’s “Tropical Art Deco” incorporates elements of the local fauna such as flamingos and features designs reminiscent of large seagoing vessels like trans-Atlantic liners of the period.

But Art Deco is not all architectural.

One of the events that attracts the largest number of people at Art Deco Weekend is the antiquities fair, which this year has been postponed until March 12-16 in the hope that by then the pandemic will have diminished in virulence.

In addition to Barisione’s Zoom conference, several other such free events are scheduled to be held in the same way.

From India, Prof. Mutansir Dalvi will give a virtual overview of the vestiges of Art Deco architecture in Mumbai, architect and photographer Arthur Marcus will explore the style via photos of significant residential buildings in Miami Beach.

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