The Display of Art: Exhibitions, Biennials, Salons: Art at World's Fairs

Definitions and resources related to historical and contemporary exhibitions.

World's Fairs

Dictionary of Fairs

Art Exhibitions at World's Fairs

Brief History of World's Fairs

World's Fairs, also called Exposition Universalle or Great Exhibitions, are large-scale industrial and cultural exhibitions in which several nations participate. Conceived as encyclopedic in nature, encompassing products from all nations, they combined a passion for the organization of knowledge with an optimism about the benefits of industrial development. The Society of Arts in London mounted such exhibitions since 1761 but including only models and drawings of industrial machinery rather than the products themselves.

The Great Exhibition of Products of Industry of All Nations, held at the Crystal Palace in London in 1851, is recognized as the first true World's Fair and it was succeeded by an international exhibition held every few years in a major city. The Great Exhibition was the first to include the fine arts as a category and, in 1855 at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, a full-scale fine arts exhibition was included among the categories.


International exhibitions have also helped spread wide-ranging design styles. The influence of Art Nouveau was greatly enhanced by the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900 while the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, held in Paris in 1925, popularized the Art Deco style named after it.


Although the great age of international exhibitions really ended with the New York World’s Fair of 1939–40, such exhibitions continue to be held regularly and are increasingly dominated by multinational corporations and the desire to promote tourism.

Great Exhibitions

Bibliographies of World's Fairs