The style that has come to be known as Art Nouveau began in Europe in the 1880s and flourished up to the turn of the century. It affected all the arts, but especially the decorative arts and architecture. In the decades since, it has periodically gone in and out of fashion, reviving and then fading. For the past 25 years, according to David McFadden, curator of decorative arts at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York, it has been ``a very much accepted part of museum collecting, and also a favorite with many private collectors.''
The exhibition, ``Art Nouveau Bing: Paris Style 1900,'' will run through Oct. 11 at the Cooper-Hewitt. It focuses on the influence of entrepreneur Siegfried Bing, one of the earliest supporters of the style.
in 1895, Bing renovated his art gallery in Paris (where he had promoted Japanese art objects) and renamed it ``L'Art Nouveau'' - thus helping launch a new decorative-style. The name literally implies one man's vision of ``new art.''
That ideal was carried out through the designs made, to his choosing and specification, in his own Paris ateliers. In these workshops he turned out furniture, objects, wall coverings, and jewelry, all created within a single aesthetic concept and all made by hand. Ceramic pottery, tapestries, carpeting, and stained glass were also made to Bing-approved designs.
Because Bing was devoted to Japanese art in the early years of his career, the interconnection of Japanese influence with the growth of Art Nouveau is an obvious and fascinating one. Also contributing to his ``new art'' were such American sources as Louis Comfort Tiffany and the Rockwood Pottery.
Bing opened his own ``L'Art Nouveau'' pavilion at the huge Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900, and its overwhelming success gave name to the artistic movement that subsequently swept Europe and America.
The Cooper-Hewitt exhibition of about 200 prints, posters, decorative art objects, jewelry, and furniture (all on loan from museum and private sources) was organized by the Smithsonian Institution's Traveling Exhibition Service. The guest curator is Gabriel P. Weisberg, professor of art history at the University of Minnesota.
Dr. Weisberg encountered Bing's name many years ago, became intrigued, and began the detective work that eventually tracked down many of the Bing pieces now exhibited in New York, as well as the story of Bing himself.
He researched scraps of information, critical reviews, sales receipts, legal documents, and business letters scattered in archives throughout Europe. Because many of the pieces sold by the Bing shop were scattered throughout the world, he traveled to many countries to see objects and to check their condition. Many fine examples were found at the Trondheim Museum in Norway and at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Copenhagen. Some good pieces of furniture were found in Hamburg.
Many pieces, he says, had been destroyed in various wars or simply lost by the passage of time and change of circumstance. Finally, with the assistance of his wife, Yvonne, Weisberg pieced together the role Bing played in the development of Art Nouveau, and to not only put together the exhibition but also write the book, ``Art Nouveau Bing: Paris Style 1900'' (Harry N. Abrams, $40 hardback, $27 paperback).
The book has also served as a catalog to the exhibition as it has has toured the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Fla., and the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Neb., before arriving in New York.
Both the exhibition and the book are major contributions to art scholarship. According to Weisberg, its chief effect will be to set Art Nouveau in its proper context so that people can see the real role that Bing played in establishing the style.