NO art style seemed more surely dead and buried than Art Nouveau, the turn-of-the-century vogue for flowing, whirling motifs and gingerbread gewgaws. Thrown out by cubist artists who viewed such effulgent detail as a bad case of artistic warts, and banned by the stripped-down school of Bauhaus modern architects, the movement that once spread across Europe and to the U.S. had been dormant for decades. Now there is new interest in Art Nouveau—particularly among the strongest proponents of modern art and architecture.

What has happened? The fact is that the world of the cube,...

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