The Phenomenal Cultural Influence Of Rube Goldberg’s Artwork

THE ART OF RUBE GOLDBERG, an exhibition celebrating the groundbreaking artwork of one of the most influential cartoon illustrators of the 20th century, opens in the Main Gallery April 28 and continues through July 21.

Marking the first comprehensive retrospective exhibition of Goldberg’s work since 1970, The Art of Rube Goldberg chronicles all aspects of the artist’s 72 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, video, and related ephemera, this exhibition offers visitors an unprecedented opportunity to witness the development of Goldberg's artwork and trace his rise to prominence.

The exhibition begins with a look at Goldberg’s innovative early work, with original drawings that reveal the beginnings of his comic style; then follows his steady rise to fame as a nationally syndicated presence in the 1920s and 1930s. Highlights include one of Goldberg’s earliest existing drawings, “The Old Violinist,” from 1895; an original concept drawing of Boob McNutt and Bertha from the 1920s; plus original artwork for such daily and weekly comic strip series as Foolish Questions, Mike and Ike—They Look Alike, and Boob Mc-Nutt, all from the 1910s and 1920s. The influence of vaudeville and early film on Goldberg’s comic imagination is explored, and his satirical takes on fashion, sports, politics, gender roles, and other aspects of modern life are showcased and celebrated. Rare family photographs and early films provide period detail and essential context.

The Art of Rube Goldberg prominently features Goldberg’s crowning artistic achievement: his invention drawings. Highlighting their unique burlesque of our modern age of invention, this section explores how Goldberg’s zany contraptions caught 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. 

The exhibition concludes with a vivid survey of Goldberg’s output 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 coda of his long career, while his enduring popularity is underscored by such items as the 1995 Rube Goldberg U.S. Postage stamp. 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 lexicon and whose influence continues to reverberate into the 21st century.

The content of The Art of Rube Goldberg is based on the book of the same title, published by Abrams ComicArts, and includes over 75 original drawings and sketches, 3-4 video stations screening Goldberg’s films and taped interviews, as well as photographs, books, magazines, and other materials. The companion book, The Art of Rube Goldberg, accompanies the exhibition.

The Art of Rube Goldberg was conceived by Creighton Michael; developed in cooperation with Heirs of Rube Goldberg, LLC; and curated by Max Weintraub. The national touring exhibition was organized by International Arts & Artists, Washington, DC, and includes the following venues: Museum of Pop Culture, Seattle; Grand Rapids Art Museum; Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco; Portland Public Library, Portland, Maine; National Museum of American Jewish History, Philadelphia; and the Queens Museum, New York. 

International Arts & Artists in Washington, DC, is a non-profit arts service organization dedicated to increasing cross-cultural understanding and exposure to the arts internationally, through exhibitions, programs, and services to artists, arts institutions and the public. Visit www.artsandartists.org

ArtsChristopher Simon