Alexandra Chiriac

PhD Cohort 2019

HEI: University of St Andrews

Funding: AHRC DTP

Project Title: Putting the Peripheral Centre Stage: Performing Modernism in Interbellum Bucharest 1924-1934 

Supervisor: Dr Jeremy Howard, School of Art History

What was your research about

My doctoral research investigated the history of applied arts and design in East-Central Europe, highlighting transnational exchanges and, in particular, exploring the impact of modernism on stage design and interior design in Romania in the 1920s and 30s. The materials I gathered during research trips to Romania, Germany, Latvia and the USA helped me to piece together an important segment of avant-garde art and design that has received little attention until now. My research showed how these interdisciplinary and transnational collaborations resulted in innovative artistic practices.

Multi-functional lamp by the designer Andrei Vespremie illustrated in the avant-garde magazine Contimporanul, July 1926

What made you apply for the SGSAH AHRC DTP?

My trajectory is perhaps atypical in that I did my PhD as a mature student. My undergraduate degree was in business management, and I worked in this field for many years, at the same time taking art history evening classes. I then took the decision to change career paths. I obtained an MA from the Courtauld Institute of Art in 2012 and worked in the arts for three years before applying to continue my studies with a PhD at St Andrews. Having worked in various roles in both business and the arts, I knew this was the right path for me as I really enjoy research.  

Which aspects of your PhD did you enjoy the most?

I really enjoyed being able to work independently and to immerse myself in my research and writing. Being responsible for my schedule took some getting used to after working in organisations. But once I figured out it was fine to follow my own pace and preferences, it was a great experience. I also really loved working as a teaching assistant on several art history undergraduate modules. Preparing for the classes and interacting with students taught me more than my solitary research sometimes!

How has your PhD helped you to decide on a career path?

As I explained above, undertaking the PhD came after having experience with several career paths, so I was confident in what I wanted. The PhD honed my skills in research, writing, and presenting and re-affirmed my belief that I would like to pursue work that plays to my strengths and involves these activities in some shape or form.  

And now?

I am currently a Leonard A. Lauder Research Fellow at the Leonard A. Lauder Research Fellow for Modern Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. I have been working on expanding my PhD research and turning it into a book which is out with De Gruyter in 2022, entitled Performing Modernism: A Jewish Avant-Garde in Bucharest.  

Alexandra Chiriac’s Performing Modernism: A Jewish Avant-Garde in Bucharest

One piece of advice you would give an incoming PhD researcher?

Make sure you take time away from work to be with friends and pursue your hobbies! I have a second piece of advice for when you are nearing the end of your PhD: when deciding on a submission date, try to also strategically consider the cutoff dates for eligibility for postdoctoral funding (such as the British Academy or Leverhulme funding schemes). A difference of even one month could put you within the bracket for an additional year of eligibility. They usually count from the viva date, so it goes by fast!

Where can people find you?

SGSAH; SGSAH ResearchTwitter: @arthistorynomad