The Minimalism in Ornamentation
Making a comeback to bolster design and conquer new markets
Jean-Marc Barbier, June 3, 2019
ed.BACCARAT design Jaime HAYON.
ed.BACCARAT design Jaime HAYON.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the Shakers, who had come to the New World in 1774, practised a form of Christian communism. They followed rigid moral precepts and banned any form of ornamentation from their furniture and household objects, which had to be practical above all else. Their pure aesthetics still have their disciples today, and they have even come to form a distinct movement within the decorative arts.

"Selma" chair, design by Front Designers
However, the 19th century witnessed a last-ditch struggle by ornamentation with the troubadour spirit and the Louis-XVI-Impératrice style as well as the naturalist energy of Art Nouveau. It then came under direct attack at the beginning of the 20th century, this time for purely practical and intellectual reasons. In 1905, a cabinetmaker from Dresden, Karl Schmidt, “asks his architect brother-in-law to design a chair for him that he might reproduce in his workshop, and whose style and shape should fit in with the constraints set by a machine”. In his pamphlet Ornament and Crime (1909), the architect Adolf Loos takes a stand: “Ornamentation is no longer a natural product of our culture but a relic of the past or a sign of degeneration.” Worse: “it has throughout the ages represented a squandering of human health and energy. Nowadays, it is also represents a squandering of raw materials.” These are dark times for ornamentation, all the more so since “cubism and the first abstract painters will provide the inspiration for the modern architecture of, among others, Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Breuer,” says Jocelyn de Noblet. “The magazine L’Esprit Nouveau in Paris, the Bauhause movement in Dessau, the De Stijl group in the Netherlands, and constructivism in the USSR were all fertile breeding grounds for a new architecture.

"Martin" secretary, Mobilier de Compagnie, design by Rachel and Benoît Convers
But it was at the C.I.A.M. (or International Congress of Modern Architecture, of which the first was held in 1928) that the movement really began to grow in cohesion. From 1925 onwards, the movement spread to all the decorative arts.” There was also a social or even political dimension to this: “Abstraction was supposed to be democratic. Precisely because it belonged to no particular culture, a purely abstract design could speak to anyone and not only to those who were familiar with the conventions and symbols that were the basis of older styles.” We’re a long way from the elitism Kant dreamed of…

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