A History of the Carnegie International
18961919 | 19201949 | 19501959 | 19601979 | 19802000
Carnegie Institute's exhibitions of international art began at a time when contemporary
art excited widespread public interest, and when many considered the encouragement of
living artists as essential to the nation's progress.
The first Carnegie International, in 1896, was modeled after the famous and popular art
salons held in Europe, but with a broader scope. More importantly, the museum's first
director, John W. Beatty, conceived the Pittsburgh exhibitions as international events,
in contrast to the usual practice in the United States where annuals of contemporary art
tended to focus almost exclusively on American art.
Establishing a series of annual contemporary art exhibitions in Pittsburgh in 1896 was
an extraordinary event in itself. New York City, the nation's most vital art center,
would have been a predictable choice as would have Philadelphia or Chicago. Moreover,
Pittsburgh had no history as an active center for artists or exhibitions. Yet the event
quickly became one of the most important contemporary art shows in America.
The success and longevity of the exhibition can largely be attributed to the museum's
founder: Andrew Carnegie. The expertise, travel, insurance, packing and transportation
required to organize and mount an international art exhibition was an expense that few
could afford. Without Carnegie's enthusiastic support, the annual exhibitions never
would have taken place.
Carnegie was exceedingly generous to the city that had made him one of the nation's
wealthiest men. Although Pittsburgh had not attained cultural fame at the turn of the
century, it was a world leader in industrial production, and the city's high standing
in global manufacturing and commerce stirred ambitions for cultural prominence as well.
Through the first two decades of the exhibitions, artwork was divided about equallyhalf
of the artists were American and half were from other countriesmostly France, Great
Britain, and Germany, with additional entries from Ireland, Scotland and eastern
European countries. One of consequences of these international events, both in
Pittsburgh and in Europe, was the erosion of differences between national traditions
and even individual artists. By and large, works were traditional oils on canvas, and
they exhibited a familial resemblance, American and European alike. Some critics
referred to the art at the annual exhibitions as a "standardized product" lacking
innovation. Critical voices were few, however, compared to reviewers who endorsed
the policies that continued to lead the Carnegie annual along the path it had first
taken in the 1890s.