The history of Great Exhibitions, Expos and World’s Fairs, 1851 – Present, the British Contribution.
From the very first Great Exhibition in London in 1851, held in the magnificent Crystal Palace, to the awe-inspiring events in Paris, New York and across the world there have been many exhibitions that we would consider Great Exhibitions or World’s Fairs. In fact there have been 106 or so different exhibitions that fit into this category and they are still being held today. We can’t consider all of these events in this lecture, but we will consider the most important exhibitions, London 1851, Paris 1900 and 1925, Brussels 1958 and New York 1964 will be amongst the most important.
We can trace the development of Great Exhibitions from their birth in London in 1851 at the heart of a thriving Empire, to Europe, in particular Paris where many wonderful events were held, across the Atlantic to America and New York in the post-war period and further East to China, Japan and beyond in recent times. This change of location demonstrating a move in culture and influence over the last 150 years. These events all tell of a city and people at a certain moment in history holding a huge and elaborate fair for the world to attend. The design, architecture and ideology are always of the moment and push at the boundaries of progress. Imagined futures are often portrayed with suggestions of how we might live in the future, some of these futures seem to have been projected with great foresight, others still feel like unattainable goals. These factors make these exhibitions fascinating moments in time and wonderful stepping-stones through our recent history.
As a nation Great Britain has hosted a number of important exhibitions since 1851, in particular exhibitions in 1862 and 1924/5 were very successful. Alongside this contribution we have contributed impressive national pavilions at other exhibitions, and at some events we have been conspicuous by our absence. This lecture will trace the history of our countries involvement in such exhibitions and our contribution, successful or otherwise, to the development of art, design, architecture and technology that the events so clearly outline. From high Victorian eclecticism through to Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Modernism and beyond this talk will cover a fascinating aspect of global history.
I love these exhibitions and hope that I can share my enthusiasm for them with you.