0300 'Gesamtkunstwerk' World’s Fair. Revisioning International Exhibitions

Introduction to the RIHA Journal Special Issue

  • Buket Altinoba (Author)

    Buket Altinoba, Dr. phil., is a researcher at the Institute of Art History at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich working on the project "Machines for the reproduction of sculpture. Competition of reproduction techniques 1770–1880" (funded by the DFG, 2020–2023). Before her visiting professorship at the University of Regensburg, she worked as a research assistant at the Institute for the History of Art and Architecture at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). She participated in the Mathilde Planck Lectureship Program at the State Academy of Fine Arts Stuttgart and was a PhD fellow at the Graduiertenkolleg "Image – Body – Medium. An Anthropological Perspective" at the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design (HFG). Her dissertation on the founding and development of the Istanbul Academy of Arts (2012) was published in 2016 under the title Die Istanbuler Kunstakademie von ihrer Gründung bis heute: moderne Kunst, Nationsbildung und Kulturtransfer in der Türkei.

  • Alexandra Karentzos (Author)

    Alexandra Karentzos, Dr. phil., is Professor of Art History, Fashion and Aesthetics at the Technische Universität Darmstadt in Germany. Previously, she was Junior Professor of Art History at the University of Trier and Assistant Curator at the Alte Nationalgalerie and the Nationalgalerie Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum of Contemporary Art in Berlin. She was a fellow in the research group "No Laughing Matter. Visual Humor in Ideas of Race, Nationality, and Ethnicity" at Dartmouth College, USA, and a guest researcher at the Institute of Art History at the Universidade Federal de São Paulo, Brazil, as well as a fellow at the Alfried Krupp Wissenschaftskolleg Greifswald, Germany. Most recently, she was a visiting scholar at the University of Cincinnati. Together with Viktoria Schmidt-Linsenhoff and Katja Wolf, she founded the Center for Postcolonial and Gender Studies (CePoG) at the University of Trier. She is co-founder and editor of the journal Querformat. Zeitschrift für Zeitgenössisches, Kunst, Populärkultur. Together with Miriam Oesterreich, she heads the DFG-funded project "A Critical Art History of International and World Exhibitions – Decentering Fashion and Modernities". She has published extensively on different aspects of art, fashion and visual culture. Another special issue she co-edited for the RIHA Journal is: Gottfried Lindauer – Painting New Zealand, in: RIHA Journal 0189-0197 (20 July 2018), DOI: https://doi.org/10.11588/riha.2018.2.

  • Miriam Oesterreich (Author)

    Miriam Oesterreich, PhD, is Professor of Design Theory and Gender Studies at the University of the Arts, Berlin. An art historian (BA from the University of Heidelberg, MA from the Freie Universität Berlin), she is currently researching the transcultural entanglements of Mexican Indigenism. She received her PhD from Freie Universität Berlin with an investigation of early exoticist advertising images in the German Empire, 1880–1914, which was published as a book in the Fink/Brill series Schriften zur Kunst. She has published in journals such as RIHA Journal, Artelogie, and Design & Culture. She worked as a research associate at the Universities of Heidelberg and Darmstadt, where she deepened her interest in Latin American arts, art and migration, and conceptions of the body in art. In 2019, she was an Ansel Adams Fellow at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona. She is an associate researcher of the international project "Worlding Public Cultures – The Arts and Social Innovation" at the University of Heidelberg and the Heidelberg Center for Ibero-American Studies. She is co-editor of the digital, peer-reviewed and Open Access journal MIRADAS – Journal for the Arts and Visual Culture of the Américas and the Iberian Peninsula.

Identifiers (Article)


From their beginnings in the mid-nineteenth century, the world’s fairs sought to generate a synthesized body of knowledge about the world by gathering an encyclopedic and didactic collection of objects from a wide array of fields: technology, machinery, handicrafts, the visual arts, performance, and ethnography – knowledge made visible and experienced through artifacts sourced from all over the world. This expanded visual experience can also be understood as one that interprets the gaze as a catalyst for a multi-sensory perception and categorization of material culture, of both two- and three-dimensional objects of vision. Thus, these exhibitions not only synthesized 'the world', but they also synthesized arts, handicrafts, architecture, and technology into an imagined Gesamtkunstwerk. The objects and works of art – handcrafted or machine-made – displayed at the world’s fairs were conceived as a mass spectacle as they were turned into the signifiers of a narrative – imagined and presented as coherent – of technological progress, colonial expansion, and artistic innovation. The colonized regions were to stand in contrast to this, with ethnographica and handicrafts presented as traditional, 'authentic'. Nevertheless, a complex network of "shared histories" and transnational interconnections became manifest at the world’s fairs.


world's fair, Gesamtkunstwerk, art and technology, colonialism, nationalism, gender and fashion, representation, exhibition