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World-wide quest uncovers cross-cultural world's fairs art objects
Jason T. Busch, the chief curator at the museum, shows a photograph of the original display at the 1902 Prima Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte Decorativa Moderna, where the Bugatti designed parchment covered "Cobra Chair" in front was displayed in Turin, Italy. This is part of the "Inventing the Modern World" exhibit is scheduled to open at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Art on Oct. 13, 2012, and run through Feb. 24, 2013. The show features works of furniture, metalwork, glass, ceramics, textiles, and jewelry produced by international artists and businesses made for world’s fairs, from London’s Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations in 1851, to the New York World’s Fair in 1939. AP Photo/Keith Srakocic.

PITTSBURGH, PA.- Carnegie Museum of Art’s exhibition Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World's Fairs, 1851-1939 presents over 200 objects from 88 years of fairs, together for the first time. Co-curated by Jason T. Busch, Chief Curator and The Alan G. and Jane A. Lehman Curator of Decorative Arts and Design at Carnegie Museum of Art, and Catherine L. Futter, The Helen Jane and R. Hugh “Pat” Uhlmann Curator of Decorative Arts at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Inventing the Modern World showcases objects painstakingly assembled from European and American collections. For Busch, the exhibition represents a true achievement, since “the exhibition checklist comprises decorative arts unattainable as a group in any one museum in the world.” Futter adds, “We looked at literally thousands of decorative arts from around the globe….We kept refining our choices to find the objects that really spoke about innovation.”

From their inception in 1851, the world’s fairs showcased and enthralled the visiting public with the cutting edge of industry and style, with new materials and methods. In doing so, artists and manufacturers used breakthrough scientific innovations to create art objects that embodied the latest aesthetics and techniques. A co-production of Carnegie Museum of Art and The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World’s Fairs, 1851–1939 assembles objects from around the world that represent the height of both science and artistry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Carnegie Museum of Art supplements the traveling portion of this exhibition with a treasure trove of its own objects from fairs, making it the largest venue of the four-city tour, which also includes the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Staggering in its breadth, Inventing the Modern World evokes a time of exciting progress, and a series of world’s fairs that were very different than they are today; these fairs were expositions for consumers focused squarely on new designs in household objects. Featuring furniture, jewelry, ceramics, glass, and other products, each representing the pinnacle of the art and science of its day, the exhibition demonstrates that, even as radically new materials emerged and tastes changed, the quest for variety, innovation, and ingenuity remained a common thread from 1851 through 1939.

Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World’s Fairs, 1851–1939 will be on view at Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, October 13, 2012–February 24, 2013. A full-color catalogue, written by international scholars of 19th- and 20th-century decorative arts and co-published by Skira Rizzoli, accompanies the exhibition.

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