Carnegie International, the catalogs, and their covers

| November 16th, 2012, 4:16 PM

Cover of the 1961 Carnegie International (called Pittsburgh International Exhibition)

The earliest Carnegie International catalog covers featured a profile with the motto “Honos Alit Artes” (in English, “Honor feeds the arts”). This phrase is attributed to Cicero, who argued that an artistic discipline, such as painting, requires recognition and support from the public in order to flourish. This cover design was used from 1896 to 1914, when the annual show was put on hold due to the war. When the exhibition was brought back in 1920, the covers had a new, modern design. This Art Deco look was used from 1920 to 1922, and the show was renamed the International Exhibition of Paintings. 1924 saw the introduction of a new cover design, this time a classic image of a goddess.

This design was used from 1924 to 1939, and brought back again for the 1950 catalog. The catalogs from 1941 to 1949 took on a decidedly patriotic character, not dissimilar to the patriotic National Recovery Administration (NRA) posters that were ubiquitous ten years earlier. Fittingly, the name of the show was changed to Painting in the United States, as opposed to an international exhibition. Starting in the 1950s, a catalog cover was designed specifically for each exhibition, now titled the Pittsburgh International. These designs were much more abstract than the previous covers, with a new vitality and energy that embodies the emerging importance of American contemporary art during the postwar period. This cover from 1961 is such a beautifully simple and effective design, with the red and blue color scheme reminiscent of the covers of the 1940s.

The catalog from 1995 has a beautiful cover that emphasizes the global nature of the Carnegie International. The curator, Richard Armstrong, writes that he became increasingly aware of his own American-centric viewpoint, and as a result he endeavored to include and learn about artists from many different cultures. To this end, he visited some 27 countries on four different continents in his search for new and relevant art. The 1995 Carnegie International contained works from as far away as Japan and Brazil. I also like the use of raw cardboard for a book cover, as it’s a bit unexpected. Looking through the catalog, it seems like the show was a bit eccentric as well, from some disturbing pieces by Tony Oursler to the precise, architecturally-inspired drawings of Guillermo Kuitca. Some works I found particularly interesting were Doris Salcedo’s cement and furniture sculptures, which look like fossils taken from our own living rooms—dining sets encased in concrete.

I found this little artists guide squirreled away inside the 1988 Carnegie International catalogue. I love the colorful cover, and the wacky “88″ in the corner—perfectly matched to the excitement and vitality of the world of contemporary art. My dad and I have been coming to see the International for many years, and I remember that every time I would see something new and different—and maybe a little strange! It seems that the 1988 International was as dynamic as its cover, with many interesting sculptural works in particular. It also featured a piece that is still on view today: Lothar Baumgarten’s The Tongue of the Cherokee, on the ceiling of the Hall of Sculpture.

Kelsey Eckert is an intern with the contemporary art department at Carnegie Museum of Art.

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