Tuesday, October 23, 2012

world's fair exhibition now on display

I meant to write a piece about this marvelous exhibition before it opened at Carnegie Museum of Art. Unfortunately preparing for that exhibition, as well as the costuming deadlines I had in October, took precedence.

Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World’s Fairs, 1851-1939 displays an array of decorative items that took advantage of new techniques, manufacturing methods, and materials to achieve the same look as hand-crafted pieces or create entirely new looks.

One example is this elaborately carved wooden piano:

Exposition Universelle, Paris, 1867
John Bettridge and Company
Pianoforte and stool, c. 1867
gilded and japanned papier-mâché, verre églomisé, mother-of-pearl, brass, aluminum, glass, and original silk, with modern upholstery (stool);
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
image source: Carnegie Museum of Art Facebook Page
Or is it? It’s actually a wood piano with paper mache that was placed in casts designed to look like the piano had been hand-carved:

For any lover of Victorian social and economic history, however, this exhibition pays great homage to the original Great Exhibition of 1851, started by Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert. The beginning of this exhibition is made to look like the Great Exhibition in the colors of the walls. Pieces from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Toledo Art Museum, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, have been temporarily loaned to be put on display.

A beautiful display case from the Carnegie Institute- an example of what cases used to securely display items in the World's Fairs pavilions looked like.
image source: Carnegie Museum of Art Facebook Page
Some of the items are just amazing, such as this room partition or screen:

Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, 1915
Hashio Kiyoshi (Kajimoto Seizaburo)
Morning Sea, 1915
Silk and lacquered wood
Allentown Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Van Santvoord - 2008.007
Note: This screen is woven from thousands of strands of silk, in over 250 shades.
image source: Carnegie Museum of Art Facebook Page
It looks so like a choppy sea, but is actually made from thousands of strands of silk painstakingly woven together to depict an Asian sea in the morning, at a time when photography could achieve the same effect.

The most remarkable thing about this exhibition, however, is the way many of the creations influenced decorating designs decades after they premiered. Some of the pieces from the World’s Fairs of the early 1900s look like they belong in a 1920s home, while the items from the 1930s are more commonly seen in the living rooms and offices of the '50s and '60s.

New York World's Fair, 1939
Attributed to Louis Dierra, designer
PPG Industries (Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co.), manufacturer
Chair, 1939
Glass with synthetic upholstery
Carnegie Museum of Art, DuPuy Fund
Shown with original display, the Miracle of Glass Pavilion, alongside other furniture by PPG. The chair's original upholstery was made of fiberglass.
image source: Carnegie Museum of Art Facebook Page
New ways to make textiles with brighter colors, the use of new materials such as aluminum, and even new methods of producing old designs, make this a uniquely stunning exhibition to see.

As an aside, I never did get to dress up like a Victorian for the opening Gala for Inventing the Modern World. The Pittsburgh Opera never dropped off the clothing, and none of my Victorian clothes can be considered to be, without a doubt, historically accurate. Oh well.

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