Grand Rapids Art Museum features 'The Art of Rube Goldberg'

By Sidney Selvig | 6/4/17 9:50pm

"The Art of Rube Goldberg" exhibit celebrates one of 20th-century America’s most widely talented innovators. It offers visitors an intimate look into the life and legacy of one of the keenest and wittiest observers of modern times, whose influence continues to reverberate into the 21st century.

The Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) opened this exhibit in May, and it will be on view until Sunday, August 27.

The exhibit, created by GRAM Chief Curator Ron Platt, was designed to bring together never-before-exhibited original works of art, preparatory drawings, video and related ephemera, and to give visitors an unprecedented opportunity to witness the development of Goldberg's artwork and trace his rise to prominence.

“We want to turn people onto things that they don’t know about but might be interested in,” Platt said. "We like to expand people’s interests and ideas, not just present the familiar.”

The first comprehensive exhibit of Rube Goldberg’s work since the Smithsonian’s 1970 celebration of the artist, The Art of Rube Goldberg conveys 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. The GRAM wants to show how far ahead Goldberg was from his time and how work made in the last century can still be relevant today.

“The Grand Rapids Art Museum celebrates creativity in its wide range of forms,” said GRAM 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 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. Throughout his long career, Rube Goldberg chronicled almost every salient aspect of modern American life. His work touched on everything from fashion and sports to gender, politics and international affairs.

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. This exhibit explores the artistry and wit that made Goldberg one of the 20th century’s most celebrated and enduring cartoonists.

For a unique addition to the exhibit, the museum has partnered with the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District 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.

“This show is really accessible for both adults and children,” Platt said. "We have these participatory games where they can stop and play and get creative themselves, and at the end there are machines that school children made in response to the show.”

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. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to come view the show.

For more information about the GRAM, visit 

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