Surprising Minnesota Connection Inspires Exhibition on Famous Cartoonist Rube Goldberg
The name of professor butts, a fictitious fictitious inventor, appears on the screen of an old Blackberry. When the phone vibrates, it falls off a ledge, causing a yellow ball to flip onto a table, sending it flying down a small blue slide. After triggering several more levers and plowing a bunch of cans, water sprinkles a daisy that sprouts in the world.
This is the artist by Robin Schwartzman “Machine for watering a plant while you’re outside”, a bespoke Rube Goldberg-style work inspired by the designer whose name has become synonymous with wacky and overly complicated gadgets.
Rube Goldberg, the famous American Jewish cartoonist, author, engineer, and artist, is best known for his drawings of his famous “machines” that take many steps to perform ridiculously simple tasks. The Minnesota Jewish Community Center commissioned Schwartzman’s play for a two-part exhibition dedicated to the life and work of Goldberg (1883-1970) until December 20.
The show was born from an unusual connection.
“I got a call three years ago from this guy Geoffrey George,” said, “I have a bunch of my grandpa’s old work in my basement. Do you ever show it? ‘people’s art?’ “said Robyn awend, director of cultural arts of the JCC. “The intro wasn’t super exciting and I was like, ‘OK, tell me a little more.’ He said, “Have you ever heard of Rube Goldberg? And I was like, ‘Duh. Is that a joke?'”
George, who lives in St. Paul, is the youngest of Goldberg’s three grandchildren (their last name has been changed to avoid a backlash from the political views of the American Jewish cartoonist). He did not know Rube well, but when the artist died, his work was distributed to the grandchildren.
Awend quickly found herself in George’s basement alongside show producer Larry Pepper, enthusiastically sifting through archival gems.
The exhibition is divided between two places. The exhibit at the Sabes Center in St. Louis Park focuses on Goldberg’s life, career, ridiculously complex “machines” and the company he kept, like Charlie Chaplin and Groucho Marx, while the Capp Center in St. Paul’s focus is on his political cartoon work. , who won him a Pulitzer Prize in 1948.
In true Rube style, the exhibit in St. Louis Park is titled “Simplicity Made Complex” while the St. Paul exhibit is “Complexity Made Simple”.
Awend’s six-person team were organizing the ambitious exhibit when COVID hit.
To get things going, George decided to make a 40-minute documentary about his grandfather, “The Two Lives of Rube Goldberg”, which premiered this year. Twin Cities Jewish Film Festival and can be viewed free of charge online until October 31 via minnesotajcc.org.
It became a way to learn more about his grandfather.
“Growing up in my teens and twenties, I just didn’t understand what the problem was,” said George, who is 60.
Although his father, Thomas georges, entered the fine arts – a small exhibition of his abstract paintings is also currently on display at the Sabes Center – and his uncle became a theater and film producer, Geoffrey felt no pressure to be successful in the arts. But like Rube Goldberg, he still ended up becoming a filmmaker.
Goldberg machines are regularly referenced in pop culture, as in the 1985 movie “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure”, the Mouse Trap board game and “Back to the Future” movies, to name a few.
It is experiencing another revitalization among schoolchildren thanks to the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, launched in 1988, which gives them the chance to build their own wild gear.
Geoffrey George hopes kids continue to be inspired to make their own machines – and leave their phones to explore the world.
“I’ve been to a few of these Rube Goldberg contests and I’ve been overwhelmed with the energy of these kids,” he said.
That same collaborative energy drove Schwartzman as the Minneapolis artist worked on his own Rube Goldberg machine with Awend’s children. Reese, 11, Jojo, 9, and Simon, 6, helped her paint, solve problems and run around the gallery like crazy.
“They were my great testers and reformers for what to do when things didn’t work out,” Schwartzman said. “I was really shocked and amazed that they accepted, and how smart their suggestions were.”
“Simplicity made complex”: 6 am-7pm Mon-Thu, 6-6 Fri, 8-6 Sat-Sun through December 20, Sabes Center, 4330 S. Cedar Lake Road, St. Louis Park. 952-381-3400.
“Complexity made simple”: 5.30am-10pm Mon-Thu, 5.30pm-6 Friday, 7-6pm Sat-Sun until December 20, Capp Center, 1375 St. Paul Av., St. Paul. 651-698-0751.
Admission: To free.