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Treasure: Cleveland exhibit perfect winter antidote

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

‘Don’t try to count the diamonds in this show,” docent Mike Kaplan cautioned a group of rapt museumgoers at the Cleveland Museum of Art recently as he guided them through the new exhibition “The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s.”

It’s hard not to be dazzled by the show, the first major museum exhibition to focus on American taste in art and design during the roaring 1920s and 1930s, according to a press release. Co-organized by the Cleveland museum and the Cooper Hewitt, it includes more than 300 pieces of jewelry, fashion, automobiles, paintings and decorative arts. The exhibition “is a blockbuster show — gorgeous, bountiful, exhilarating,” according to William Griswold, the museum’s director.

I would wholeheartedly agree. Gathered from museum and private collections, some pieces have not been seen since they were made in the 1920s. Some have a European origin, particularly Paris and Vienna, and most were made after World War I when the world was looking to shed the constraints of the Victorian era. “These works pushed the boundaries of art and design in an age when people were hungry for change,” says decorative art and design curator Stephen Harrison.

It’s difficult not to gape as you wander through the exhibition, which leads through row after row of riches. There are diamonds, yes, but also emeralds, platinum and jade. There are silver tea sets and streamlined works in crystal, glass and earthenware, one more beautiful than the next. “Nowhere else can be seen under one roof such an extraordinary group of design masterworks,” asserts Harrison.

Not all have a European pedigree, however. Look closely, and you’ll see that there are pieces made in Cleveland (the notable Muse with Violin Screen, by Hungarian-born Paul Fehér, a designer at the city’s Rose Iron Works) and a gorgeous deco gate from the Chanin Building in New York, across from Grand Central Terminal. The huge, and breathtaking, “Joy of Life,” a mural used in the Ziegfield Theatre in New York that takes up a large wall in the exhibition, is another highlight. There’s even a full size Piccadilly Roadster made by Rolls-Royce. And not all have a high price tags — Bakelite radios, fabrics and lighting showed how the movement filtered down to objects of everyday life.

I fell in love with many pieces, but the one that had me swooning was Robert Delaunay’s oversized aerial painting of the Eiffel Tower, part of a series he painted in 1924. With bright colors and a modern sensibility, it had immediate and visceral appeal.

Go ahead and count the diamonds if you want. The ability to do so is just one of many pleasures of this show, which runs through Jan. 14. and is the perfect antidote to a gloomy Midwestern winter. It’s well worth the short drive to Cleveland.

“The Jazz Age:

American Style in the 1920s”

Tickets are $15. For more information, visit