Putting the peripheral centre stage : performing modernism in interbellum Bucharest 1924-1934

  • Alexandra Chiriac

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


This thesis investigates how modernism manifested itself in applied arts and design in interbellum Bucharest, expanding the field of enquiry of the avant-garde outside two-dimensional production. The framework utilised is underpinned by two recent approaches: from art history, the concept of ‘circulations’ developed by Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann, Catherine Dossin, and Béatrice Joyeux-Prunel; and from the field of performance studies, Erika Fischer-Lichte’s new aesthetics of performance. The narrative thread is provided by the activities of the artist M. H. Maxy in the realms of design and performance, yet he is not always the protagonist. The first half of the thesis recovers the history of the Academy of Decorative Arts, a private venture founded by designer and pedagogue Andrei Vespremie and later joined by Maxy and his wife Mela Maxy. Through newly uncovered archival material, it provides a close reading of the Academy’s curriculum and workshops and establishes its links with the Schule Reimann, a pioneering Berlin-based design institution. The second half of the thesis focuses on Maxy’s work in stage design and reveals the trajectories of his innovative collaborators: the Vilna Troupe, Dida Solomon and Iacob Sternberg. Examining a range of theatrical productions, it highlights the experimental visions, intricate performances and iconoclastic endeavours of these practitioners, which ran the gamut of ‘high’ to ‘low’ art and blurred the boundaries between modern life, modern commerce, and the theatrical stage. Overall, this thesis brings to light the rich artistic life of modern Bucharest, a heretofore peripheral location in histories of art, and highlights practitioners whose contribution to the European interwar avant-garde have been obscured by the gaps between disciplines or national narratives. It challenges the categories of ‘avant-garde’ and ‘modernism’ and their restrictive usage, advocating for a more inclusive and transnational approach that eschews binaries and normalises cross-cultural and cross-media slippages and collaborations.
Date of Award25 Jun 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorJeremy Charles Howard (Supervisor)


  • Modernism
  • Applied arts and design
  • Romania
  • Bucharest
  • Avant-garde
  • Stage design
  • Performance
  • Center - periphery
  • Transnational
  • Yiddish theatre
  • Bauhaus

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 4th November 2024

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