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

22 September 2013 - 19 January 2014

Mint Museum Uptown


Left:  Coupe de Rivoli, circa 1867. Sevre Porcelain Manufactory, France.

Above: Zaire Centerpiece Bowl, 1930. Delheid Frères, Belgium.



Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World’s Fairs 1851-1939 is a groundbreaking, international loan exhibition that 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.


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, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum für angewandte Kunst in Vienna, the Kunstindustrimuseet in Copenhagen, and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. - Brian Gallagher, Curator of Decorative Arts


Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World’s Fairs, 1851 – 1939 is co-organized by Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, and The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.  Major support for this exhibition is 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, and the Southern Christmas Show.. Learning and Engagement programming for Inventing the World is generously underwritten by the Mint Museum Auxiliary.


Online and Print Resources


Additional Information on the "Inventing the Modern World" Exhibition


Overview of 1851-1939 World's Fairs


London 1851 -  Vienna 1873 


Philadelphia 1876 - Brussels 1897


1900 Paris Exposition Universelle


Turin 1902 - New York 1939





Created by Nicole Jacobson, volunteer for the Mint Museum Library.