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A Critical Art History of International and World Expositions: Decentering Fashion and Modernities

source: Alphonse Mucha (1860 – 1939): St. Louis World's Fair 1904.

The research project is a cooperation between the Technical University of Darmstadt, the Berlin University of the Arts and the German Forum for Art History Paris (DFK Paris) and is funded by the German Research Foundation (2022-2025).

Head of the project are Prof. Dr. Miriam Oesterreich (UdK Berlin: m.oesterreich_ and Prof. Dr. Alexandra Karentzos (TU Darmstadt: alexandra.karentzos_

Project Description

The World’s Fairs of the 19th and early 20th centuries gave rise to significant impulses for the histories of art and fashion. Both were fixed components of the national self-presentation at the world’s fairs from the very beginning.  This research project will conduct a fundamental revision of art and fashion, for the first time in the context of the world’s fairs.

First, the research project will make a significant contribution to a de-centering of art and fashion metropolises. Not only was the world brought together in miniature at the world expositions, but also objects and artifacts from very different areas of technology, handcrafts, the visual arts, and fashion were brought together in a holistic model. Such unifying ideas were reflected in the nineteenth-century concept of a “Gesamtkunstwerk.” World’s fairs created such centers of seeing and showing, and served, for example, to establish Paris as an art and fashion metropolis, distinguishing it from its ‘peripheries,’ such as Latin American representations and colonies, which in contrast were presented as traditional and ‘authentic.’

Second, a central concern of the project is to challenge the constructions of modernity associated with the fairs in the context of a “critical globalism.” Staging ‘modern’ art as related to the ‘national schools’ emerging at the same time was also a way of negotiating artistic metropolitanness and ‘periphery’ in the transnational framework of the world’s fairs. Thus, world’s fairs created a competition over modernity, where the western nations were conceived as industrially, artistically, and fashionably advanced. Latin America in particular, as not yet modern but no longer colonized, take on an ambivalent role in the context of the world’s fairs.

Third, art history and fashion studies thus require a substantially new perspective by approaching the entanglements of the world’s fairs from positions of postcolonial and decolonial theory. Such a theoretical formation is particularly well suited for working out ambivalences, since it uses multiplied views to expand the binary constructions of center and periphery, modernity and tradition. The project breaks new ground working out the “entangled histories” of art and fashion at the world’s fairs against the backdrop of colonialism, imperialism, and globalization.

On the basis of case studies in the two following two main areas, essential knowledge can be gained about how art and fashion are mutually connected in the multi-layered context of the world’s fair: 1. “Fashioning the World” (directed by Prof. Dr. Alexandra Karentzos) will concentrate on the role of fashion and textiles in the globalized context of the artistic exchange at the world’s fairs; and 2. “De-/Colonial Modernities: Representing ‘Peripheries’ at World’s Fairs” (directed by Prof. Dr. Miriam Oesterreich) will focus on the ambivalent position of Latin America as ‘peripheral’ presentations.

DFG Project Team


Prof. Dr. Miriam Oesterreich
UdK Berlin

Miriam Oesterreich CV

Miriam Oesterreich, Dr., is a Professor for Theory of Design and Gender Studies at the University of the Arts in Berlin since the summer of 2021.


Prof. Dr. phil. Alexandra Karentzos
TU Darmstadt

Alexandra Karentzos CV

Alexandra Karentzos, Dr. phil., is an art historian and has been Professor of Fashion and Aesthetics at the Technical University of Darmstadt since 2011.


PhD Students

Elena Nustrini, M.A.
UdK Berlin

Elena Nustrini CV​​​​​​​

Elena Nustrini, M.A., is a Ph.D. student in Art History at the University of the Arts Berlin where she investigates the role of visual arts in the process of the construction of 'national' identities in the late 19th century.

She obtained her Master in Art History at the Freie Universität Berlin in 2022.


Lizzy Rys, M.A.
TU Darmstadt
Lizzy Rys CV

Lizzy Rys, M.A., is a Ph.D. student at the Technical University of Darmstadt where she researches fashion on Belgian World Fairs of the Nineteenth Century. 

She obtained her Master in Art History at the Ghent University in 2023.


Student Assistants

Tobias Scholze
UdK Berlin


Tobias Scholze studied Philosophy and Art History at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main for 2 years.

He's currently enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Visual Communications at the University of the Arts in Berlin.


Alicia Nischwitz, J.B.A.
TU Darmstadt


Alicia Nischwitz obtained her Joint Bachelor of Arts Degree in German Studies and History at the TU Darmstadt in the summer of 2022.

She started her Master of Arts Degree in History at the TU Darmstadt in winter of 2022.