Houdini: Art and Magic

October 2, 2011–January 16, 2012


Studio photograph of Houdini in white trunks and chains, c. 1905, modern photograph. Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Handcuffs, shackles, straitjackets, milk cans, packing trunks – nothing could hold Harry Houdini (1874-1926), the renowned magician and escape artist who became one of the 20thcentury’s most legendary performers. With a talent for self-promotion and provocation, this immigrant son of a poor Hungarian rabbi rocketed to international fame and grabbed front page headlines with his gripping theatrical presentations and heart-stopping outdoor spectacles – often dangling high above huge crowds or being lowered dramatically into an icy river locked inside a crate.

The Contemporary Jewish Museum presents the first major exhibition to examine Houdini’s life, legend, and enduring cultural influence. Houdini: Art and Magic includes more than 160 objects including magic apparatus, a recreation of the famous Water Torture Cell, historic photographs, dramatic art nouveau-era posters, theater ephemera, and archival and silent films that allow visitors to fully explore the career and legacy of the celebrated entertainer. The exhibition also features 26 contemporary works of art by Jane Hammond, Vik Muniz, Raymond Pettibon and more that bring to light Houdini’s lasting impact on contemporary art and culture.

Press Release


Houdini: Art and Magic was organized by The Jewish Museum, New York, and made possible by Jane and James Stern, the Skirball Fund for American Jewish Life Exhibitions, and other generous donors.

The San Francisco presentation was made possible by the generous support of the following donors:

Lead Supporter: 
of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund

Presenting Partner:

Supporting Sponsors: Julie and David M. Levine

2011/2012 Exhibition Season Lead Sponsors The Koret and Taube Foundations



736 Mission Street (btwn. 3rd and 4th Streets), San Francisco, CA 94103 | Hours: Daily 11am–5pm, Thursdays 11am–8pm, Closed Wednesdays | 415.655.7800 | info@thecjm.org