The Rapidian

Art of Rube Goldberg arrives at Grand Rapids Art Museum

The new exhibition celebrates the groundbreaking artwork of one of the most influential cartoon illustrators of the twentieth century. The exhibition will be on view May 20 and go through August 27, 2017.
Rube Goldberg, Rube Goldberg Inventions United States Postal Service Stamp (included on sheet of “Comic Classics” stamps), date

Rube Goldberg, Rube Goldberg Inventions United States Postal Service Stamp (included on sheet of “Comic Classics” stamps), date /Courtesy of Rube Goldberg Inc.

Underwriting support from:

The Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) presents The Art of Rube Goldberg, a new exhibition celebrating the groundbreaking artwork of one of the most influential cartoon illustrators of the twentieth century. The exhibition will be on view May 20 and go through August 27, 2017.

Marking the first comprehensive retrospective exhibition of Goldberg’s work since 1970, The Art of Rube Goldberg chronicles all aspects of the artist’s seventy-two-year career, from his earliest published drawings and iconic inventions to his Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoons and beyond. Bringing together never-before-exhibited original works of art, preparatory drawings, and video, this exhibition offers visitors an unprecedented opportunity to witness the development of Goldberg's artwork and trace his rise to prominence.

“The Grand Rapids Art Museum celebrates creativity in its wide range of forms,” commented GRAM’s Director and CEO, Dana Friis-Hansen. “We’re excited to present this delightful mixed media exhibition at GRAM, which explores the whimsical world of Rube Goldberg and others who have been influenced by his work nearly a century later.”

The exhibition begins with a look at Goldberg’s innovative early work, with original drawings that reveal the beginnings of his comic style, following his steady rise to fame as a nationally syndicated presence in the 1920s and 1930s. It explores not only Goldberg’s influences, but also examines his often satirical take on life. Rare family photographs and early films provide period detail and essential context to these drawings.

The Art of Rube Goldberg prominently features Goldberg’s crowning artistic achievement: his invention drawings. Highlighting their unique take on the modern age of invention, this section of the exhibit explores how Goldberg’s zany contraptions captured the popular imagination and became—as he put it—“a symbol of man’s capacity for exerting maximum effort to achieve minimal results,” while making him a cultural icon. Accompanying the drawings is a video interview with Pop Culture Historian, Paul Tumey, which features clips from the many Hollywood films inspired by Goldberg’s drawings.

“Rube Goldberg’s Invention Drawings combine great illustration, physical comedy, and empathy for people’s exasperation with technology,” stated GRAM’s Chief Curator, Ron Platt. “They are as fresh and relevant today as they were when he drew them.”

Influenced by Goldberg’s zest for invention and imagination, GRAM has partnered with the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District (OAISD) and Grand Haven Public Schools to showcase the work of students inspired by Rube Goldberg. Museum visitors are invited to interact with Rube Goldberg machines designed and built by these intrepid young inventors throughout the duration of the exhibition.

The exhibition concludes with a vivid survey of Goldberg’s work during his final decades and with a celebration of his lasting influence on popular culture. A selection of his late-in-life political cartoons traces the remarkable finale of his long career, while his enduring popularity is emphasized by such items as the 1995 Rube Goldberg U.S. Postage stamp. Enhancing the exhibition is Peter Fischli and David Weiss’ 30-minute video, The Way Things Go (1986–1987), in which objects such as tires, saws, ladders, and buckets are animated by physics: water, fire, gas, and gravity propelled these objects to collide and react in a chain of events.

The Art of Rube Goldberg offers visitors an intimate look into the life and legacy of one of the keenest and wittiest observers of modern times, whose name has entered the cultural vocabulary and whose influence continues to reverberate into the twenty-first century.

Complementing The Art of Rube Goldberg, GRAM members and the public can enjoy several events and related programming, including the Member Preview Party, Drop-in Tours, and a lecture with Creighton Michael, who conceived the concept for the exhibition.

Related Events

Member Preview Party: 

The Art of Rube Goldberg

Friday, May 19, 2017

7 – 9 pm

Free, members only

Members are invited to join GRAM for the opening of The Art of Rube Goldberg, celebrating the 72-year career of the cartoonist, humorist, sculptor, author, engineer, and inventor. Enjoy complimentary

hors d’oeuvres, live entertainment, and a cash bar.

Rube Goldberg: Hand and Mind

Lecture with Creighton Michael

Thursday, June 8, 2017

7 – 8 pm


Join us for a special evening with Creighton Michael—the mind behind the concept of The Art of Rube Goldberg.

The Art of Rube Goldberg was conceived by Creighton Michael, developed in cooperation with Heirs of Rube Goldberg, LLC, NY, NY, and curated by Max Weintraub. This tour was organized by International Arts & Artists, Washington, DC.

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