John Thomas, president of the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles, spoke at the Petersen Automotive Museum on Tuesday night. The lecture, which concentrated on the Streamline Moderne aesthetic of the Great Depression era, complimented the museum’s current exhibition, “Aerodynamics: From Art to Science.“ The exhibit features various cars that show the progression of aerodynamic efficiency in auto design.
Streamline Moderne, or Art Moderne, was a late development in the Art Deco style, emerging in the early mid-1930s and waning in popularity upon the eruption of World War II. Though now considered an offshoot of the Art Deco style, Moderne was initially a response to Art Deco by designers, who considered the industrial style to be too ornate for the economically beleaguered period. “Streamline Moderne symbolized art contributing to reality,” said Thomas.
Thomas attributed the creation of the Streamline Moderne aerodynamic style to Norman Bel Geddes, a former theatrical set designer who embraced efficiency in all aspects of design, even fabricating a teardrop shaped car (called Motor Car Number 8) in 1931. Geddes’ book Horizons (1932) had a huge impact in popularizing Streamline Moderne, promoting design aerodynamics at a time when only a few engineers were realizing its potential in travel. One such early example of aerodynamic experimentation is the 1928 Martin Aerodynamic, which is also shown in the exhibition.
Though no full sized examples of Geddes’ Motor Car No. 8 exist, the Petersen’s “Aerodynamics” exhibit shows a few preliminary sketches and models of torpedo shaped automobile, as well as displaying its later aerodynamic descendants like the BMW 328 Mille Migilia and the 1997 GM EV-1.
In the end, Thomas let the “Aerodynamics: From Art to Science” speak for itself, as most of his lecture focused on Streamline Moderne’s impact of architecture and decorative arts rather than automobile design. Fascinating to those interested in the Art Deco as a whole, but definitely not a replacement for visiting the exhibition.
“Aerodynamics: From Art to Science” will remain open until May 27th.