Study Day: DFG Projekt Darmstadt 2024

The Fashion of the ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’: Decentering Art Nouveau Style at International Exhibitions

  • Date
    March 22-23, 2024
  • Location
    Georg-Christoph-Lichtenberghaus (Darmstadt)
  • Registration

„Maison Moderne“ – programmatically, the advertizing poster by artist Manuel Orazi, displayed at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900, proclaims a ‘new style’: the ornamentally dressed young woman, enthroned on a curved chair in front of a display of vases and figurines, merges with the interior and becomes an allegory of modernity and consumption herself.

By bringing together objects and artifacts from very different areas of handcrafts, the visual arts, technology and fashion at world expositions, the boundaries between these areas became porous. It is no mere coincidence that artistic concepts of breaking the boundaries between art and life, culminating in the “Gesamtkunstwerk” (e.g. Gottfried Semper), were developed at the same time; indeed they featured prominently at the world’s fairs, along with Historicism and Art Nouveau. Design, fashion, and textiles played a central role in “Inventing the Modern World” (Busch/Futter) and stood, in fact, at the intersection of art and everyday life.

Tobias Scholze
Tobias Scholze

The principle of the ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ was programmatic in multiple world’s fairs (Paris 1900, Turin 1902, St. Louis 1904), as they presented the “Darmstadt Artists’ Colony Mathildenhöhe.” Among the featured interior designs, there were also textile designs, such as those of Hans Christiansen for Joseph Maria Olbrich’s “Darmstadt Room,” which were celebrated as “Germany's Wonderful New Art” (Sunday Magazine 1904). The ‘Gesamtkunstwerk,’ the objective of which is actually to posit an unfragmented unity, stands for modernity here (actually a paradoxical undertaking, since modern society has become more and more differentiated since the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries). By the encounter of the arts and fashions of the various ‘peripheries,’ the world’s fairs themselves become a catwalk for the whole world.

To challenge such holistic models theoretically and methodologically the study day takes postcolonial and decolonial approaches and critically analyzes the contexts of globalization and such unifying concepts when considering how world’s fairs relate to Fashion Studies and Art History. The goal of this study day is to demonstrate the entangled art histories within fashion. This, in turn, provides the backdrop for a new critical discussion of the terms of Art Nouveau, fashion, globalization, and Gesamtkunstwerk.

We aim to reinforce the fundamental premises of Fashion Studies by examining these topics and terms through the example of the world’s fairs, and also to contribute to art history by critically reflecting on the staging of art and fashion at these Expositions, as that then relates to the ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’. The participants are invited to analyze any of the following themes from a variety of fashion and art historical perspectives, and themes might – though not exclusively – engage with aspects, case studies or theoretical discussion of the topics proposed: To what degree the unifying conceptions of the Gesamtkunstwerk were connected with the presentations of fashion and textiles at the world’s fairs? How can constructions of modernity be critically reflected in the discourse of fashion and art within global entanglements at world’s fairs?

The study day will be organized by the DFG-funded research project “A Critical Art History of International and World Expositions – Decentering Fashion and Modernities,” namely Alexandra Karentzos, Elena Nustrini, Miriam Oesterreich, and Lizzy Rys. It will take place 22-23 March 2023 in cooperation with and at the Institut Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt and at Technical University of Darmstadt. Paper presentations should not exceed 20-25 minutes in order to leave room for intense discussion.


March 22, 2024
3.00 p.m. Guided tour of the UNESCO World Heritage Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt
6.00 p.m. Official Welcome

Dr. Philipp Gutbrod (Director of the Institut Mathildenhöhe)

Welcome and Opening of the Conference

Prof. Dr. Alexandra Karentzos (Technical University of Darmstadt)
Prof. Dr. Miriam Oesterreich (Berlin University of the Arts)
Elena Nustrini, M.A. (Berlin University of the Arts)
Lizzy Rys, M.A. (Technical University of Darmstadt)
6.30 p.m. Keynote lecture

A Transnational Art Nouveau: The Fashionable Railway as Gesamtkunstwerk
at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair

Prof. Dr. Rebecca Houze (Northwestern Illinois University)

Moderation: Prof. Dr. Alexandra Karentzos
8.00 p.m. Get together and Apérol
March 23, 2024
9.30 a.m. Introduction

Prof. Dr. Alexandra Karentzos (Technical University of Darmstadt)
Prof. Dr. Miriam Oesterreich (Berlin University of the Arts)
Elena Nustrini, M.A. (Berlin University of the Arts)
Lizzy Rys, M.A. (Technical University of Darmstadt)
10.00 a.m. Opening lecture

“Most Perfect Examples of Decorative Art” – Participations of the Darmstadt
Artists’ Colony at the World’s Fairs

Dr. Sandra Bornemann-Quecke (Institut Mathildenhöhe)

Moderation: Prof. Dr. Miriam Oesterreich
10.45 a.m. The Spectacle of Imperialism: Exhibiting the World at International Expositions

Dr. Catherine Futter (Brooklyn Museum)

Moderation: Prof. Dr. Miriam Oesterreich
11:30 a.m. Coffee Break
11.45 a.m. Fashion Behind Glass: Seduction, Alienation, and Experiences of the “Modern,” 1900-1908

Dr. Paula Alaszkiewicz (Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising at
Colorado State University)

Moderation: Lizzy Rys, M.A.
12.30 p.m. Lunch Break
2.00 p.m. Selling Art Nouveau fashion, 1890-1914

Dr. Clare Rose (Independent scholar and curator)

Moderation: Lizzy Rys, M.A.
2.45 p.m. Fashion at the 1900 Exposition Universelle: Multiple Regimes of Display

Prof. Dr. Maude Bass-Krueger (Ghent University)

Moderation: Elena Nustrini, M.A.
3.30 p.m. Coffee break
4.00 p.m. Curating Hierarchies: the case of Hélène De Rudder embroideries and Bakuba textiles at the 1897 Brussels World’s Fair

Lizzy Rys, M.A. (Technical University of Darmstadt)

Moderation: Elena Nustrini, M.A.
4.45 p.m. Final discussion

Moderation: Prof. Dr. Alexandra Karentzos, Prof. Dr. Miriam Oesterreich,
Elena Nustrini, M.A., Lizzy Rys, M.A.
5.30 p.m. End of Study Day
7.30 p.m. Dinner at 3klang
Riegerplatz 3, 64289 Darmstadt