Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World’s Fairs 1851-1939

September 22, 2013 - January 19, 2014

Mint Museum Uptown


This groundbreaking international exhibition presents outstanding examples of glass, furniture, jewelry, ceramics, precious metalwork, and textiles displayed at the world’s fairs between The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations in London in 1851 and the New York World’s Fair in 1939.

Many of these objects have never before left their respective institutions or countries.

World’s fairs were the most important vehicles for debuting advancements in modern living. Some fairs were broad in scope, displaying decorative arts alongside paintings, sculpture, industrial design and agricultural products; others concentrated on exhibiting decorative arts alone.  Both types of expositions functioned as showcases and marketplaces for design. Above all, they democratized design, exposing countless visitors and others to the latest artistic and technological achievements of their time.

Inventing the Modern World comprises approximately 200 objects shown at every major world’s fair from 1851 to 1939. Large and small in scale, these seminal objects are culled from private and public collections, primarily in America and Europe. Among the many lenders are the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MAK – Museum for Applied Arts/Contemporary Art, Vienna, Designmuseum Danmark, and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. A fully-illustrated scholarly catalogue accompanies the exhibition. This exhibition is co-organized by Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, and The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Major support for this exhibition was provided by Wells Fargo, the Windgate Charitable Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. The exhibition is brought to Charlotte through generous support from Duke Energy, Novant Health, Rodgers Builders, and the Southern Christmas Show.

In-kind support for this exhibition was generously provided by Adams Outdoor Advertising.

Online Resources

For more information on this exhibition, please visit the Mintwiki. Created by The Mint Museum Library, Mintwiki provides online information on the special exhibitions and permanent collections of The Mint Museum.