“Let us hope that the pictures exhibited here from time to time will be of all schools, and reach both extremes—the highest critic and the humblest citizen.”
—Andrew Carnegie, from his 1895 dedication speech for Carnegie Institute
Founding & Name Changes
Originally known as the Department of Fine Arts, Carnegie Institute, the museum’s first art gallery was dedicated for public use on November 5, 1895, and was initially housed in what is now the Main Branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. The first major expansion to the building on Forbes Avenue in 1907 provided space for Carnegie’s growing collection of dinosaur fossils, as well as the Hall of Sculpture and the Hall of Architecture.
The museum’s name remained the same until 1963, when it was officially changed to Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute to help distinguish it from the nearby College of Fine Arts at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University). The size of the gallery space was tripled in 1974 with the opening of the Scaife Galleries, the second major expansion of the Institute’s original building. Just two years later, the Bruce Galleries and the Heinz Galleries were opened to house the museum’s decorative arts collection and major changing exhibitions, respectively. The museum’s name was changed once again in 1986 to its current name—Carnegie Museum of Art—to more clearly show its relationship as one of the four Carnegie Museums (which includes Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Carnegie Science Center, The Andy Warhol Museum.
While most art museums founded at the turn of the century focused on collections of well-known masters, Andrew Carnegie envisioned a museum collection consisting of the “Old Masters of tomorrow.” In 1896, he initiated a series of exhibitions of contemporary art and proposed that the museum’s paintings collection be formed through purchases from this series. Carnegie, thereby, founded what is arguably the first museum of modern art in the United States. Early acquisitions of works by such artists as Winslow Homer, James McNeill Whistler, and Camille Pissarro laid the foundation for a collection that today is distinguished in American art from the mid-19th century to the present, in French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, and in significant late-20th-century works. Today the International remains an important source for the museum’s acquisitions of contemporary art. Presented every three to five years, it features works by contemporary artists from around the globe.
Learn more about the Carnegie International.
The Collection Grows
Over the past century, the museum has amplified its scope of interest to include decorative arts and design, photography, film and video, Asian art (notably Japanese prints), and African art. In 1994, the museum completed a reinstallation of its pre-1945 American and European fine and decorative arts that combined them in a single chronological sequence. The Heinz Architectural Center, opened as part of the museum in 1993, is dedicated to the collection, study, and exhibition of architectural drawings and models.
In 2001, the museum acquired the archive of African American photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris, consisting of over 70,000 photographic negatives spanning from the 1930s to the 1970s. The museum continues to work with a Teenie Harris Advisory Committee to identify the photographs. Many of these images have been catalogued and digitized and are available online via the Teenie Harris Archive.
In both 2003 and 2012, the Scaife Galleries, home for many of the paintings, sculptures, works on paper, and decorative arts in the museum’s collection, reopened after yearlong renovations. There is now a larger space—Gallery One—featuring works on paper and photography, and the contemporary art galleries incorporate decorative arts and works on paper along with paintings, sculpture, and film and video pieces. Resource areas and comfortable seating have also been integrated into the space.
In 2009, the Ailsa Mellon Bruce Galleries of decorative arts and design reopened after a complete renovation. The first major reinterpretation of the decorative arts collection in two decades, the installation traces the evolution of style and design in the Western world from the mid-18th century to the present.
That year also saw the arrival of a new director for the museum, Lynn Zelevansky. She formerly served as the curator of contemporary art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and as curator in the department of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
In 2011, the newly renovated Charity Randall Gallery opened off of the Hall of Sculpture balcony; the space is dedicated to the display of modern and contemporary craft and design, growing areas of strength in the collection.