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

Jason Busch, Carnegie Museum of Art

Tuesday, September 10, 2013Mini-exhibit: 7:15pmLecture: 8:00pm
de Young Museum
Coupe, ca. 1867, agate with gilded and enameled brass by Charles Duron

Coupe, ca. 1867, agate with gilded and enameled brass by Charles Duron (French, 1814–1872). Carnegie Museum of Art, Women’s Committee Acquisition Fund, Gift of Baroness Cassel Van Doorn, by exchange, and Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund, 2008. Shown at the Exposition Universelle, Paris, 1867

Table, ca. 1938, glass by Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co.

Table, ca. 1938, glass by Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co. (United States (Pittsburgh, PA), 1883–present). Corning Museum of Glass, NY. Shown at the New York World’s Fair, 1939

World’s fairs — once referred to as universal exhibitions — were the most important venues for debuting advancements in modern living. International expositions functioned as showcases and marketplaces for design — on individual, national and global levels. Above all, they democratized design unlike any previous or period forum.

Decorative arts, particularly objects crafted in ceramic, metal, glass and wood, physically manifested the progressive, economic, and technological ideals embodied in the fairs. Jason Busch will focus on objects that embody the underlying themes of world’s fairs: (1) the importance of inventive or revived fabrication techniques; (2) the representation of cross-cultural and cross-national influence, resulting from increasing global trade and exchange; and (3) the demonstration of nationalistic inspiration and folkloric traditions.

Decorative arts from world’s fairs are sometimes the only surviving elements of these impermanent exhibitions. Jason Busch carefully culled approximately 200 such decorative arts from every major world’s fair from 1851 to 1939. Many of these seminal objects from the 19th and early 20th centuries had never been published or even seen outside of their respective collections, and their important provenance in the world’s fairs has only recently been (re)discovered.

These singular objects represented the pinnacle of scientific and artistic achievements of their time and demonstrated how innovative design could positively affect modern living. While world’s fairs transported the visitor back to an unprecedented period of design globalization, Mr. Busch will also identify the various materials, processes and decorative arts that were avant-garde and influential in defining the modern world.

Jason Busch is the Chief Curator and The Alan G. and Jane A. Lehman Curator of Decorative Arts and Design at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh. Mr. Busch’s responsibilities included renovation and reinstallation of the museum’s recently reopened galleries, which include decorative arts, modernist design and contemporary craft.

After graduating from Miami University of Ohio with a bachelor’s degree in American Studies, Jason Busch received his master’s degree in Early American Culture from the Winterthur Program at the University of Delaware. Mr. Busch has held fellowships and internships at the National Park Service, Historic Deerfield (Massachusetts), Colonial Williamsburg, and the Cincinnati Historical Society. Mr. Busch was formerly Associate Curator of Architecture, Design, Decorative Arts, Craft and Sculpture, and Curator of the Grand Salon from the Hôtel Gaillard de La Bouëxière (Paris, circa 1735), at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and Assistant Curator of American Decorative Arts at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut.

Mr. Busch is a frequent contributor of articles to The Magazine Antiques and Antiques and Fine Art. “Destination Pittsburgh,” in the January/February 2010 issue of *The Magazine Antiques, describes Jason Busch’s reinstallation of the decorative arts galleries at the Carnegie Museum of Art which juxtaposes different styles, from different time periods, to show similarities — and relationships — in materials, design and technology.

Mr. Busch’s contributions to decorative arts scholarship have culminated in several exhibitions and publications, including Displaying the World: Decorative Arts at World’s Fairs, 1851–1939 (Carnegie Museum of Art and Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, 2012), the subject of his presentation to the Forum; Rococo: The Continuing Curve 1730–2008 (Cooper Hewitt Museum, 2008), Currents of Change: Art and Life Along the Mississippi River, 1850–1861 (Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2004) and George Washington: In Profile (Wadsworth Atheneum, 1999). He also edited Carnegie Museum of Arts: Decorative Arts and Design Collection Highlights (2010). Jason Busch last spoke to the Forum in September, 2010 about “American Rococo: Evolution in Style.”

7:15pm mini-exhibit

Remember world’s fairs — as many visitors do — with memorabilia: pins, pennants, pillows, posters, post cards and photographs.


Koret Auditorium, de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Enter from Level B1 of the parking garage; pedestrians enter from the concourse side of Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive and down the steps across the street from the museum’s main entrance.