A Brief History of the Carnegie International, 1896–2008
In 1895, Andrew Carnegie inaugurated the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, including what is now Carnegie Museum of Art. While many US museums of the time were buying old master collections, Carnegie’s museum was to acquire “the old masters of tomorrow.” In effect, he had created the country’s first contemporary art museum. Invented as a means to build the collection of the newly founded Carnegie Institute, the Carnegie International (est. 1896) is, after the Venice Biennale (est. 1895), the oldest international contemporary art survey exhibition in the world. Established as the Annual Exhibition, the show was held every fall, with few exceptions, until 1955, when a triennial schedule was adopted. From 1958 until 1970, it was known as the Pittsburgh International Exhibition of Contemporary Paintings and Sculpture. After an interruption due to soaring costs and the construction of the museum’s new wing, the exhibition resumed in 1977 and 1979 as the International Series, single-artist shows intended as a parallel to the Nobel Prize for the arts. In 1982, the exhibition reappeared under its original survey format as the Carnegie International, and has been mounted every three to five years since.
1896–1921: The International was selected by Carnegie Museum of Art director John W. Beatty in consultation with foreign advisory committees. The exhibition selection system was two-tiered: some artists were invited to participate directly, shipping their work straight to Pittsburgh and bypassing the selection process, while some were invited to submit works to a selection committee, often at their own expense.
1922–1950: The Institute’s second director, Homer Saint-Gaudens, instituted a new, streamlined system whereby foreign representatives scouted promising works for his annual trips to Europe. Saint-Gaudens instituted the display of works by country during these years and in 1924 introduced the Popular Prize, voted upon by the public; he retired after the 1950 show. Between 1940 and 1949—the war years—three domestic shows: American Painting (1940), Directions in American Painting (1941), and Painting in the United States (1943–1949) were mounted by assistant director John O’Connor while Saint-Gaudens served in the military.
1951–1962: Gordon Bailey Washburn maintained his predecessor’s use of foreign advisors, but dropped nationality as the organizing structure. He organized four Internationals, which he distinguished from larger competitors (the Venice Biennale and São Paolo Bienal) as the only international survey curated by a single person, offering “one man’s view of contemporary art.” In 1958, Marcel Duchamp and Vincent Price sat on the jury for the award.
1963–1969: The 1964 and 1967 Internationals were organized by the museum’s fourth director, Gustave von Groschwitz, in consultation with seven national correspondents based in Europe, whom he referred to as “informal co-jurors.”
1970–1979: The 1970, 1977, and 1979 Internationals were organized by the museum’s fifth director, Leon Arkus. Arkus eliminated prizes for the 1970 show, and switched to a single-artist, retrospective format for the 1977 (Pierre Alechinsky) and 1979 (split between Eduardo Chillida and Willem de Kooning) shows.
1980–2008: John R. Lane became director in 1980, but hired curator Gene Baro to organize the 1982 International. This format has remained in place through all of the successive editions, with a twist in 1985, when Lane co-curated the exhibition with John Caldwell. Lane and Caldwell vowed a return to Andrew Carnegie’s vision for the exhibition as a means to advance international understanding, and assembled a team of American and European advisors in hopes of organizing the show by a “truly bilateral process.” The International was organized a second time by John Caldwell in 1988; Lynn Cooke and Mark Francis in 1991; Richard Armstrong in 1995; Madeleine Grynsztejn in 1999; Laura Hoptman in 2004; and Douglas Fogle in 2008.
2011–2012: The Smithsonian Archives of American Art digitizes the Carnegie’s historical records, including early correspondence related to the 1896 International. The 2013 International curatorial team launch their 2013 Carnegie International blog web.cmoa.org/ci13.