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  • April in Paris: Theatricality, Modernism, and Politics at the 1925 Art Deco Expo by Irena R. Makaryk
  • Laurence Senelick
APRIL IN PARIS: THEATRICALITY, MODERNISM, AND POLITICS AT THE 1925 ART DECO EXPO. By Irena R. Makaryk. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018; pp. 328.

Napoleon III, eager to certify Paris as the hub of civilization, staged two expositions internationales during his reign. They became the model for all subsequent transglobal exhibitions and world's fairs, vehicles for the fruitful interchange of arts and cultures (although often held on the eve of war). In April in Paris, Irena Makaryk turns her attention to the Paris Exposition des Arts Décoratifs in Paris in 1925. Beyond launching art deco as a modernist element of style, the exposition made current a wide array of discoveries and bright ideas in stagecraft. As the late Christopher Innes noted, modernist drama and theatre were, from their inception, international, anti-traditional, and artistically maximalist. Much of this, Makaryk would argue, was consolidated by the Expo Deco.

The title contains a sly allusion to the author's special field. The song "April in Paris" was composed by Vernon Duke, who, as she informs us, was born Vladimir Dukelsky in Minsk. Makaryk is the leading authority on twentieth-century Ukrainian theatre; her books on Les Kurbas, the Berezil troupe and the art movements in Kiev are eye-opening studies of impressive scholarship. Consequently, in her close scrutiny of the expo, she regularly returns to the Soviet and particularly the Ukrainian contributions. This is only fair, since the expo was the first opportunity the USSR had to demonstrate its creative achievements to the world at large, and it took it with both hands. The exhibits of the Bolsheviks—then regarded by much of the world as savages—were by far the most radical on display, seeking to demonstrate Soviet art's sophisticated and visionary prominence. One of her chief sources, overlooked by earlier scholars, is the Russian art historian Boris Turnovets, a member of the organizing committee.

As its name indicates, the Expo Deco was dedicated to promoting a particular style; however, art deco was a convenient umbrella term for various manifestations of modernism in art, fashion, home and industrial design, and, for the first time in an international exhibition, theatre. Trends considered avant-garde were made accessible to a vast general public. Makaryk points out that in previous studies of the expo, little attention has been paid to the performing arts. Cultural seepage works slowly in the theatre, so that modernism was to be discerned chiefly on the fringes. The Soviet exhibit, featuring work by Tairov, Goncharova, Exter, Tatlin, and other luminaries of Russo-Ukrainian directing and design, announced the centrality of groundbreaking theatre in a socialist political system.

Every chapter eventually comes round to discussing the manipulation of space, which the author traces in its manifold manifestations. The remaking of the city of Paris, with its seventy-two acres of exhibition grounds; the organization of space within the show itself; and the reinvention of space by the arts and, in particular, the reimagining of stage space by innovative designers constitute the book's core. Contemporary conceptions of time and space, from Einstein to electrification, necessarily caused rethinking about the fundamentals of theatrical practice. Makaryk endorses the notion that this was a two-way traffic, with the new relationship between stage and audience more interactive; as the stage reflected realities of urban living, the ritual and performative aspects of the real came to the fore.

Makaryk follows the influence of these revelations when whole sections of the expo were imported to New York the following year, as part of an International Theatre Exposition, sponsored by the city's "little theatres." Since the designs and models were organized by the Austrian Friedrich Kiesler, his [End Page 239] manifestos and modular supports were prominent. Journalists rushed to label works as "futurism" or "expressionism" or simply "bizarre," while better-informed theatre folk referred to "constructivism" and the New Stagecraft. Americans, in any case, found the emphasis on glass and steel, on engineering and architecture, productive of a twentieth-century urban poetry.

In her final chapter, Makaryk follows this up: briefly...


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