The Open Museum
Carnegie Museum of Art welcomes the public, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or political preference. This openness builds on the ethos of Andrew Carnegie, who created Carnegie Institute (of which CMOA is a part) for the working class. In dedicating its library, he said, “Pittsburghers knew I was one of themselves…This Institute is built by a Pittsburgher with Pittsburgh money, for Pittsburgh.”1 Yet this strong local focus has always been paired with a desire to engage the wider world. It is not a coincidence that our signature exhibition—initiated by our founder—is the Carnegie International. Cognizant of our institutional origins, of the histories of so many important artists, and of the spirit of our democracy, we welcome recent arrivals.
It is striking to recall that the proud Pittsburgher Andrew Carnegie was himself an immigrant. Carnegie emigrated from Scotland in 1848 at age 12, traveling in steerage with his parents and brother. In the United States, he became one of the wealthiest people in the world, but he didn’t become a citizen until 1885, when he was almost 50, which became something of a scandal. It’s unclear why he waited—he may have mistakenly thought that his father had become a citizen when Andrew was a minor, which would have made him a citizen as well, or it just may not have been top of mind for a poor boy struggling to help his family. In any case, this oversight became an embarrassment for him; for a long time, ignoring it was preferable to calling attention to the matter.
The immigrant story weaves through CMOA’s collection. The museum owns a minimum of 1,651 works by 300 artists who immigrated to the United States. (Our records don’t always show an artist’s birth place, so this number is probably much higher.) This includes luminaries such as English-born Thomas Sully, who painted Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams; the great landscape painters Albert Bierstadt (from Germany) and Thomas Moran (England); self-taught Pittsburgh-based artist John Kane (Scotland); Kataro Shirayamandani, who created an exquisite Rookwood vase in CMOA’s collection (Japan); Philadelphia blacksmith Samuel Yellin (Russia); industrial designer Raymond Loewy (France); and major figures of the New York School such as Willem de Kooning (The Netherlands), Louise Nevelson (Ukraine), and Mark Rothko (Latvia). Among our works from 1980 onward are pieces by US artists born in China, Cuba, Ethiopia, India, Iran, South Africa, Turkey, and Vietnam. All of them have enriched people’s lives with their work and helped make the United States central to the international art world.
And what of Andrew Carnegie, who, between 1883 and 1929, built 2,509 libraries around the world, 1,689 of them in the United States? Today, the man who founded Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) and our own Carnegie Institute might be considered an illegal alien—no visa, no green card—living here under false pretenses.2
Many of us—perhaps most of us—have family histories rooted in immigration. We know how hard our predecessors worked to fit in and contribute to their new home. Immigrants often exemplify the best of our country, in the arts as well as the humanities, sciences, and business. They provide the labor that fuels industry. We are eager to have them visit CMOA, and hope they make it a habit.
Inside the Museum is Carnegie Museum of Art director Lynn Zelevansky’s blog about the local and global impacts of the museum and the art world.
- Quoted in Robert J. Gangewere, Palace of Culture: Andrew Carnegie’s Museums and Library in Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011), 3. ↵
- It is unlikely that Carnegie and his family required documentation of any kind to enter the United States. The federal government did not assume control of the immigration process until the Immigration Act of 1891. ↵