Art Deco Weekend Program Guide - 2016 - Page 58

BARBARA BAER CAPITMAN From page 55 Gianni Versace. Capitman began her quest when the whole idea was unpopular and unappreciated. It was controversial to propose declaring as historic and protecting a group of Art Deco buildings barely fifty years old. Architectural education in the preceding three decades generally taught that Art Deco was an embarrassing episode best forgotten. The unique modernist design style of the early 20th Century did not even have a proper name until 1966, when a Paris exhibit — Les Années “25” — coined the term Art Déco as shorthand for the French phrase Arts Décoratifs. That exhibit focused on component styles of the famed 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, and — significantly — styles excluded from that exhibition, listing them on the show catalog cover: Art Déco, Bauhaus, de Stijl and Esprit Nouveau (a name for Le Corbusier’s work). Shortly thereafter, the term Art Deco came into use in the English language and was firmly established when Bevis Hillier wrote his seminal work entitled Art Deco of the ’20s and ’30s. Even as Art Deco gained wider admiration, still the stucco and terrazzo hotels of Miami Beach were considered unworthy of recognition, because they were, after all, NOT the Chrysler building. Capitman soon changed all that. The low-rise scale, whimsical shapes, unpredictable and unexpected decorations, such as plaster pelicans and etched glass egrets, won the world’s hearts after Capitman’s long campaign to save them finally succeeded. The battle was won in a series of ugly skirmishes wherein some of the District’s greatest treasures were lost to the bulldozer. The resultant public outrage — carefully amplified by the brilliant and calculating Capitman — forced bewildered and scarcely-comprehending public officials to pass ever-more stringent preservation laws, until eventually, it became illegal to tear down the treasures of Miami Beach. Capitman embarked upon a trip in 1981 to “rediscover” the nation’s Art Deco buildings. 56 ART DECO WEEKEND Accompanied by designer and colorist Leonard Horowitz, she began a 32-city odyssey to locate and document these under-appreciated architectural monuments. She helped establish Art Deco Societies in several cities. The emergence and importance of the Art Deco District in Miami Beach brought with it an explosion of arts in all forms. Edward Villella’s Miami City Ballet, Michael Tilson Thomas’ New World Symphony, Art Center South Florida, and Wolfsonian-FIU, along with numerous dance and dramatic companies and dozens of art galleries, have opened since 1976 when Capitman initiated her astonishing campaign to “Save Art Deco.” It has been a mere instant in Florida’s illustrious 500-years, but a brilliant, monumental one, for sure.