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The Art of Rube Goldberg

The first retrospective exhibition in forty years to highlight the artwork of San Francisco-born cartoonist and invention illustrator Rube Goldberg  

March 15–July 8, 2017


(San Francisco, CA, January 2, 2018) The Art of Rube Goldberg explores the career of San Francisco-born Rube Goldberg (1883–1970), one of the most celebrated and influential cartoonists and illustrators of all time. Marking the first comprehensive retrospective exhibition of Goldberg’s work since 1970 and making its only California appearance at The Contemporary Jewish Museum (The CJM), the exhibition brings together never-before-exhibited original drawings and preparatory sketches alongside rare photographs, films, letters, and memorabilia from the Goldberg family archives.

“It is a special treat, during The CJM’s tenth anniversary year, to present this exhibition of the artwork of one of San Francisco’s most famous native sons,” says Lori Starr, Executive Director, The CJM. “Goldberg was an original for all time and a true example of the innovative and bold spirit that continues to define this city by the bay.”

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. It 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 US 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 twenty-first century.

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. Goldberg 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.

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, three video stations screening Goldberg’s films and taped interviews, as well as photographs, books, magazines, and other materials.

On its national tour, the exhibition travelled to the Museum of Pop Culture, Seattle, Washington and the Grand Rapids Art Museum, Grand Rapids, Michigan in 2017.

A related exhibition entitled Contraption: Rediscovering California Jewish Artists that features more of Goldberg’s work will also be on view at The CJM from February 22–July 29, 2018.

Organization and Funding

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 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 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, Amy and Matt Berler. Supporting sponsorship is provided by David Agger, Joyce B. Linker, Pacific Heights Plastic Surgery, 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.

About the Organizers

The Rube Goldberg organization consists of two different companies: RGI (Rube Goldberg, Inc.), a 501(c)3 not-for-profit; and HRG (Heirs of Rube Goldberg), the for-profit arm. Both RGI and HRG work together to maximize the full potential of Rube Goldberg’s life’s work—a rich archive, 50,000 drawings deep—as a funding source to help endow its not-for-profit STEM and STEAM Education Initiatives.

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

Max Weintraub is Director of the Art Galleries at Indiana University’s Herron School of Art and Design. Max holds a PhD in modern and contemporary art from the History of Art Department at Bryn Mawr College, and has worked in curatorial and educational departments at the Denver Art Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Museum of Modern Art. Max’s essays on Bruce Nauman, Robert Barry, William Anastasi, William Kentridge, Giambattista Tiepolo, and others have appeared in books, exhibition catalogs, academic journals, and scholarly volumes.

About The Contemporary Jewish Museum

With the opening of its new building on June 8, 2008, The Contemporary Jewish Museum ushered in a new chapter in its twenty-plus year history of engaging audiences and artists in exploring contemporary perspectives on Jewish culture, history, art, and ideas. The facility, designed by internationally renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, is a lively center where people of all ages and backgrounds can gather to experience art, share diverse perspectives, and engage in hands-on activities. Inspired by the Hebrew phrase L’Chaim (To Life), the building is a physical embodiment of The CJM’s mission to bring together tradition and innovation in an exploration of the Jewish experience in the twenty-first century.

Major support for The Contemporary Jewish Museum’s exhibitions and Jewish Peoplehood Programs comes from the Koret Foundation. The Museum also thanks the Jim Joseph Foundation for its major support of innovative strategies for educating and engaging audiences in Jewish learning. Additional major support is provided by two Anonymous donors; Alyse and Nathan Mason Brill; Carbon Five; Gaia Fund; the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation; Grants for the Arts; Walter and Elise Haas Fund; Suzanne and Elliott Felson; Wendy Kesser; Maribelle and Stephen Leavitt; Nellie and Max Levchin; Millennium Partners, the Bernard Osher Jewish Philanthropies Foundation of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund; The Lisa and John Pritzker Family Fund; Dorothy R. Saxe; Seiger Family Foundation; Taube Philanthropies for Jewish Life and Culture; and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Thank you to the Helen Diller Family Foundation for their support of the Helen Diller Institute at The Contemporary Jewish Museum.

For more information about The Contemporary Jewish Museum, visit The Museum’s website at

General Information

The Museum is open daily (except Wednesday) 11am–5pm and Thursday, 11am–8pm. Museum admission is $14 for adults, $12 for students and senior citizens with a valid ID, and $5 on Thursdays after 5pm. Youth 18 and under always get in free. For general information on The Contemporary Jewish Museum, the public may visit The Museum’s website at or call 415.655.7800. The Contemporary Jewish Museum is located at 736 Mission Street (between Third & Fourth streets), San Francisco.

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