Crisis and Commerce: World’s Fairs of the 1930s
Note: This exhibition is located at the Wolfsonian Teaching Gallery at The Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum on Florida International University's main campus.
World’s fairs once were the height of thrilling spectacle, staging premiers of the newest products and technologies, filled with futuristic buildings, and forecasting an exciting world of tomorrow. They promoted peaceful competition between nations and invited them to showcase both recent accomplishments and longstanding traditions and cultures. For over a hundred years, these expositions trumpeted the notion of ever-advancing progress.
The 1930s were a golden age of world’s fairs: during that decade, a new universal exposition opened more often than once every two years. World’s fairs took place in Antwerp and Liège in 1930, in Chicago in 1933–34 , Brussels in 1935, Paris in 1937, and in both New York and San Francisco in 1939–40. Displays promised to solve questions of hunger and hygiene, shrink distances between people, and provide new kinds of entertainment. These fairs, however, took place against a background of turmoil arising from the Great Depression and the concurrent rise of totalitarian regimes. Using The Wolfsonian’s vast collection of objects from world’s fairs, Crisis and Commerce explores tensions between these visions of innovation and plenty and the omnipresent signs of mounting political and economic crisis. Ultimately, the expositions of the decade proved unable either to conceal these problems or to prevent them from erupting into war.