When Pittsburgh industrialist Andrew Carnegie founded Carnegie Institute in 1895, one of
his bold ambitions was to create a museum of modern art as part of the institute. The exhibition series he established in the following year would become the linchpin of that scheme. Through the exhibition, Carnegie sought to educate audiences, attract the art world to Pittsburgh, and above all, to build a collection through the purchase of the ‘old masters of tomorrow’.

While the mission of Carnegie International has remained constant over the years, it has had many incarnations. In 1896, the show was established as a yearly survey and presented as the Annual Exhibition. The presence of prominent figures on its juries of award was testament to the scope of Carnegie Institute’s ambitions. However, relatively few avant-garde works appeared in these exhibitions. It was not until Henri Matisse’s work won first prize in 1927 that a modern artist was truly recognized.

By the 1950s, the Carnegie International emerged an influential exhibition of the avant-garde, documenting the rise of significant developments such as Abstract Expressionism. Many works by leading European artists were purchased for the museum from that decade’s Internationals. In 1950 the exhibition, renamed the Pittsburgh International, became biennial, and in 1955, triennial. During the 1970s the name was changed to the International Series, and broke with tradition to present one- and two-person exhibitions. The show returned to the original 1896 anthology format in 1982, and the name Carnegie International was adopted. The exhibition was re-established as the preeminent international survey of contemporary art in America with the acclaimed 1985, 1988, and 1991 exhibitions. The 1995 Carnegie International was planned to coincide with the centennial of Carnegie Institute.
The Carnegie Prize was reinstituted in 1985.