A Wise Extravagance: The Founding of the Carnegie International Exhibitions, 1895-1901

In the 1890s, American was ripe for an annual international exhibition of contemporary art. The country had ceased to be an aesthetic backwater; wealthy Americans had become a major source of patronage for European art, and American artists, trained in the best schools of Europe, had begun to enjoy considerable success abroad.

But who would have expected such an exhibition to be establish in Pittsburgh? New York, Boston, Philadelphia, or perhaps even Chicago after the 1893 Exposition, but Pittsburgh? It had no reputation as an art center; in fact, in the eyes of the world, Pittsburgh was exclusively an industrial center. But Pittsburgh had Andrew Carnegie, his devotion to philanthropic and intellectual pursuits, and his interest in art.

Kenneth Neal looks at how the Carnegie International came to be: the philosophy of those founded it, the first exhibitions—the art, the artists, and the public reception—and what the early International meant to the world of art and to the development of the Carnegie Museum. He concludes that the International ultimately failed to live up to Andrew Carnegie's most idealistic expectations: it neither made Pittsburgh a world-class art center nor transformed its inhabitants into moral and spiritual paragons. But it did greatly enrich the cultural life of the city and the country—as it continues to do today—and it helped improve Pittsburgh's dreary, provincial, industrial image. 

Author Kenneth Neal

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