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The Art of Rube Goldberg

Mar 15, 2018–Jul 8, 2018

The Art of Rube Goldberg explores the career of Rube Goldberg (1883–1970), one of the most celebrated and influential cartoonists of all time. Marking the first comprehensive retrospective exhibition of Goldberg’s work since 1970, the exhibition brings together never-before-exhibited original drawings and preparatory sketches alongside rare photographs, films, letters, and memorabilia from the Goldberg family archives.

about the eXHIBITION

The exhibition begins with Goldberg’s groundbreaking early work, with original drawings tracing his rise to prominence 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, as well as original artwork for such daily and weekly comic strip series as Foolish Questions, Mike and Ike—They Look Alike, Lala Palooza, and Boob McNutt from the 1910s and 1920s. The influence of vaudeville, jazz, and early film on Goldberg’s art is explored while his satirical take on fashion, sports, politics, gender roles, and other aspects of modern life is celebrated. Rare family photographs and early films provide period detail and essential context. Three full-page comics from the color supplements of Sunday newspapers (featuring Bill and Boob McNutt’s Ark) are shown alongside the original artwork.

Also on view are two of Goldberg’s earliest animated films, Leap Year from 1915, and a 1924 animation of Goldberg’s characters Boob and Bertha, as well as examples of Goldberg’s published books, rare color postcards, collectibles, and memorabilia based on Goldberg’s early cartoons.

At the center of The Art of Rube Goldberg is a section dedicated to his invention drawings. Showcasing over thirty original drawings, this section explores the development of these iconic inventions—overly complicated chain-reaction machines designed to perform simple tasks—from their first appearance in 1912 to the emergence of Goldberg’s mature style in “The Inventions of Professor Lucifer G. Butts, A.K.,” which appeared in Collier’s magazine from 1929–1931. His zany contraptions function, as he put it, as a “symbol of man’s capacity for exerting maximum effort to achieve minimal results” and made him a popular cultural icon.

Also on view is film footage from the Goldberg scripted film—Soup to Nuts—from 1930 starring the Three Stooges; the classic self-operating napkin sequence from Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936); a rare interview of Goldberg by legendary broadcaster Edward R. Murrow and Peter Fischli and David Weiss’ 1987 film The Way Things Go. There are examples of children’s toys, hobby kits, and board games directly inspired by the invention drawings, as well as examples of Goldberg’s related advertising. Highlights from the 2009 documentary film Mousetrap to Mars profiles the annual Rube Goldberg Machine Building Contest. 

about rube goldberg

Rube Goldberg was born in San Francisco in 1883 and died in New York in 1970. He was part of an established Jewish family—his father Max was Sheriff of San Francisco County in the 1890s. He graduated from Lowell High School in 1900 and UC Berkeley in 1904, in engineering. After working as an engineer for the city briefly, he left to do sports cartoons for the San Francisco Chronicle. He relocated to New York in 1907, where he remained for the rest of his life; he married and had two sons, George and Thomas, who changed the family name to George during WWII.


The Art of Rube Goldberg was conceived by Creighton Michael; developed in cooperation with Heirs of Rube Goldberg, LLC, New York, New York; and curated by Max Weintraub. The tour was organized by International Arts & Artists, Washington, DC. The Contemporary Jewish Museum of San Francisco’s presentation is presented on occasion of The CJM’s Tenth Anniversary in its Daniel Libeskind-designed building.

Lead sponsorship is provided by Gaia Fund, Maribelle and Stephen Leavitt, and Nellie and Max Levchin. Major sponsorship is provided by Dorothy R. Saxe. Patron Sponsorship is provided by Fred Levin and Nancy Livingston, The Shenson Foundation, in memory of Ben and A. Jess Shenson; and Amy and Matt Berler. Supporting sponsorship is provided by David Agger; Riva and David Berelson, in memory of Gita and Henry Baigelman; Pacific Heights Plastic Surgery; Joyce B. Linker; and Marilyn and Murry Waldman. Additional support is provided by Ron and Barbara Kaufman and Scott Ullman.

The Contemporary Jewish Museum thanks the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts for its lead sponsorship of the Museum’s exhibition program.

Image Credit

Header image: Rube Goldberg, Foolish Questions Postcards, c. 1910. Color postcards. Artwork Copyright © Rube Goldberg Inc. All Rights Reserved. RUBE GOLDBERG ® is a registered trademark of Rube Goldberg Inc. All materials used with permission.