Oct. 16, 1930: Home of the Carnegie International Exhibition
Earlier this month, the eyes of the art world turned toward Pittsburgh for the opening of the Carnegie International, the oldest survey of contemporary art in North America.
The first Carnegie International opened in November 1896 and featured 312 paintings. This long-running exhibition is held inside one of the city’s most distinctive buildings, formally called Carnegie Institute and Carnegie Library.
It all began in 1889 when real estate heiress Mary Schenley donated nearly 300 acres of land to Pittsburgh for the park that bears her name. A year later, steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie stood on Herron Hill and looked at the site where he would build his palace of culture. In 1891, Pittsburgh’s leaders authorized Carnegie Library trustees to build the new structure on land the city bought from Mrs. Schenley.
Ninety-seven architectural firms competed for the chance to design the sprawling complex. The winning entry, by Longfellow, Alden & Harlow, included a theater, a library, an art gallery and the museum.
When it was dedicated in 1895, the building’s core reflected Richardsonian Romanesque architecture, a style named for Henry Hobson Richardson, designer of Pittsburgh’s renowned courthouse. Flanking the music hall entrance were two Venetian towers that Andrew Carnegie disdained, calling them “donkey’s ears.” The towers were removed between 1904 and 1907.
A 1907 addition to the building included a stunning marble foyer for the Music Hall, the Hall of Architecture, the Hall of Sculpture, Staircase Hall and the Hall of Dinosaurs.
This expansion, also designed by Longfellow, Alden & Harlow, is an example of Beaux-Arts architecture, which became wildly popular in the United States after Chicago hosted the Columbian Exposition of 1893.
The building’s third expansion houses the Sarah Scaife Galleries, which opened in 1974 and were designed by Edward Larabee Barnes.
The new wing, made of emerald pearl granite, contains 155,000 square feet of space and encloses an outdoor sculpture court with 16,000 square feet.
In 2007 and 2008, E. Verner Johnson & Associates transformed a former lightwell into a three-story exhibition space for Dinosaurs in Their Time, which showcases the Natural History Museums’s world class collection of skeletons and fossils.
Perhaps the best description of Carnegie Institute came from architectural historian Margaret Henderson Floyd, who noted that the 1907 expansion made the building similar to the Library of Congress.
“…the Carnegie must be experienced as a series of breathtaking suprises, each more astonishing than the last, in which the unsuspecting explorer is carried between unrelated worlds as in a time capsule.”
With the recent opening of the Carnegie International, those words are as true today as they were more than a century ago.
Top picture: Carnegie Institute in Oct. 1930. (Photo credit: Unknown)