‘“The device of bringing them all together”: international and imperial exhibitions, 1851-1924’

Manton Studio, Tate Britain, 10am, 22 June 2012

International Exhibitions Picture

This workshop explored the relationships between internationalism, the global circuits of cultural display, and the phenomenon of the international exhibition between 1851 (the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace) and 1924 (the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley). Exhibitions were key sites of national, international and imperial encounter for artists, designers, exhibitors and visitors from across the world; a ‘device for bringing them all together’, in the words of Patrick Geddes, the nineteenth-century Scottish polymath and internationalist. In this context, however, the ‘international’ did not amount to equality. The tension between internationalism, imperialism and nationalism which such exhibitions embodied and generated was the focus of our discussion.

Since the publication over twenty years ago of Carol Breckenridge’s groundbreaking article on the Great Exhibition, a growing body of literature has explored the multitude of international exhibitions, expositions universelles and world’s fairs that Crystal Palace spawned. This workshop brought together scholars at the forefront of this research to debate the world exhibition as a site of cultural internationalism. Many have pointed to the persistence of national rivalries and rhetorics at these ‘international’ events. This workshop drew attention to the complexities, possibilities and problematics of their internationalism.

Questions considered included:
  • What role did artists play as agents of internationalism?
  • How might knowledge produced and consumed at the exhibitions have destabilized, as well as strengthened, imperial rule, contributing both to imperialism and to cultural nationalism?
  • How did the exhibitions contribute to the international status of the cities in which they were held?

This was the fourth event in the ICE series. It continued the discussion of ‘Sites of Internationalism’ initiated at the workshop entitled ‘Sites of Internationalism at the Fin de Siècle: Between Metropolis and Cosmopolis’ (University of Northumbria, 9 September 2010).


10.00 – 10.30: Arrival and coffee (Manton Studio, Tate Britain – use Manton Street entrance)
10.30-10.45: Welcome (Alison Smith, Tate Britain, and Sarah Turner, University of York)
10.45 – 1.00: Session 1: ‘“Centres”, “margins” and the international networks of exhibitions’. Chaired by Sarah Turner (University of York)

• Daniel Rycroft (University of East Anglia): ‘Thinking through imperial debris: The Great Exhibition of 1851 and its after-effects in India’

• Marta Fillipova (University of Wolverhampton): ‘Great exhibitions in the margins’

• Bryony Dixon (British Film Institute): ‘International exhibitions on film’

1.00-2.00: Lunch (provided)
2.00 – 4.15: Session 2: ‘Material and artistic encounters at the expositions universelles’. Chaired by Daniel Laqua (Northumbria University)

• Jasmine Allen (PhD student, University of York): ‘“A Happy Union”: Visualising Anglo-French relations in stained glass at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1855′

• Rachel Sloan (Curator of Drawings, Courtauld Gallery) – ‘A strange and striking poetry’: the discovery of Burne-Jones and Watts at the 1878 Exposition Universelle’

• Katie Faulkner (PhD student, Courtauld) – ‘A house of yesterday, not of today’: British art at the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle’

4.15-4.30: Tea
4.30-5.30: Paul Greenhalgh (Director of the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, UEA – ‘Promises and Threats: The Exhibition Industry 1890 – 1914’
5.30: Drinks reception and opportunity to visit Tate exhibitions as part of ‘Late Fridays’

Read report on “The device of bringing them all together”


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