A History of the Carnegie International
18961919 | 19201949 | 19501959 | 19601979 | 19802000
While Saint-Gaudens established important conventions for organizing and managing an
exhibition of international scope, it was his successor, Gordon Bailey Washburn, who
transformed the Carnegie International into the cutting-edge event that it is today.
Washburn transformed the International through two innovations. First, rather than show
a sample of current work giving each artistic tendency proportional representation,
Washburn focused on what was strictly new. Second, instead of organizing the exhibition
by country, works were installed by visual connections without regard to nationality.
Washburn's modernist principles reoriented the show toward abstraction and art considered
radical by both the traditional and advanced art press. The appetite for modern art
exploded during the 1950s and sales of works from the International increased each year
of Washburn's tenure. Every instance of record sales was used to rebuke critics who
complained that "Abstractionism" was being "pushed down our throats." Carnegie Institute
purchased the greatest number of works from the exhibitions, and one of Washburn's first
actions as Director of Fine Arts was to create a gallery of contemporary art to house
these new works separate from the museum's collection of earlier artwork.
Unfortunately, the International faced problems that hadn't plagued earlier events.
Funding an exhibit of such scope became more difficult, so exhibitions became less
frequentbecoming biennials and triennials.
In addition, Washburn's innovations and the art community's quick adoption of them
came at a price. Although the Carnegie International made its mark among the vanguard
art institutions of the day, during the next 10 years, the kind of work that had been
considered radical in 1952 became accepted by the art world, and Washburn's ideals became
part of the establishment.
Recognized in the early 1950s for its innovation and daring, the International gradually
fell behind an art world that was moving ahead at great speed.