What a Waste
The Burial of Art Deco (With apologies to T. S. Eliot)
Art Deco is the cruellest style, breeding
High tech out of a dead hand, mixing
Memory and elegance, stirring
Dull wood with sprightly lacquer.
Opulence kept us warm, covering
Earth in sleek geometric stylized forms,
A magpie greed with décoratifs.
Le Corbusier surprised us, waging war on decor*
With its many forms and guises; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into midtown Manhattan
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
“The elegant display of surplus labour in privileged objects.”**
And when we were children, staying at Miami Beach,
My cousin’s, he swung me out on some jazz
And I was frightened. He said, Moderne,
Moderne, hold on tight. And down we went.
In such luxury style, there you feel glamourous.
I read, Decline of the West, and would go south but for Covid.
What of the ornament, what nomenclature grows
Out of this french old wave rot? Grand Designers,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, definitional difficulties,
And the buildings, furniture, jewelry, fashion, cars, movie theatres, trains,
Ocean steamers, radios and vacuum cleaners
Give no joie de vivre.
There is shadow under this bar nouveau,
Come in under the shadow of this bar nouveau,
And I will show you something different from either
A flapper in a utopian bar
Or a death at the old Metropole;
I will show you fear in a handful of rare minerals.
Marble, and metal sheen,
Under the blue fog of a dawn curfew,
There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying: “Bevis!
“You who were with me at Minneapolis!
“That book you wrote once, not in an L.A. garden,
“Has it begun to wane? Will it re-issue soon?
“Or has the poison pen been binned againe?”
O mighty luxury style, exuberant array
May yet return, depression-free (Hooray!!)
Reader, mark me well, the future will revisit:
Brother, can you spare a dime for it?
[*”Modern decoration has no decoration.”] [** Robert Hughes, The Shock of the New (1980), p 80.]
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