Art à la Rue

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Art à la Rue was a group of left-wing artists and architects in the 1890s and early 1900s, mostly in Brussels and Paris. Many leading Art Nouveau artists and architects, including Victor Horta, Hector Guimard and Frantz Jourdain (spokesman for the movement) were involved.

Art à la Rue focused on bringing art to the working classes, and was part of a broader movement aimed at social reform. It had its roots in the French socialist movement, the political theories of Russian anarchist Prince Kropotkin, and William Morris’s later essays.

The group challenged what they felt was the elitist status of art, and urged artists to renounce the world of museums and collectors, and concentrate on relating art to everyday life in order to gain a more socially responsive role in society.

City streets where ordinary people spent most of their leisure time were main arenas for activity. Proponents urged that the streets be enlivened with bright colours — lithographic posters (e.g. those of Jules Chéret and Théophile Steinlen), and by artistically designed signs, lights and drinking fountains. The art was to be deliberately appealing, accessible and intelligible to people of all ages and educational backgrounds. Building façades and store fronts were singled out as especially good areas of transforming sombre streets into free outdoor museums.

With its aim of social reform and focus on public areas as a way of bringing art to the people, to lift morale and to elevate popular taste, the movement suggested that Art Nouveau was not just an aesthetic ideal but it had a strong urbanistic, moral component, which helped set the stage for the modernists’ social utopianism of the 1920s.

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