Dates: December 1, 2009 – March 28, 2010
Article & Photography by Gordo and Patricia Hasse
Arguably, the first show to present pinball graphics as “art” took place in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, current home of the landmark Pacific Pinball Museum.
That show, Sutton’s Pin Ball Game Scoreboards, an exhibit of classic backglasses, took place at the John Berggruen Gallery at 257 Grant Avenue in San Francisco way back in December of 1972!
But the long, slow road to respectability and acceptance began in earnest roughly two years later with Pat McCarthy and Wayne Morgan’s pioneering exhibit Tilt! Pinball Machines: 1931-1958.
This landmark traveling exhibit, sponsored by the Dunlop Art Gallery of the Regina Public Library in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada ran from October 11, 1974 through August 3, 1975.
On display were 23 complete and working pinball machines, 10 playfields and 12 backglasses spanning the years 1932 through 1957, while the incomplete list of known pinball machines that appeared at the end of the show catalog identified hundreds of additional games made between 1931 and 1958.
During its highly successful run the exhibit appeared in six separate institutions across Canada, including the prestigious Vancouver Art Gallery. Along the way, it broke attendance records at most of its host venues.
(So much for the brickbats and recriminations of high-brow versus low-brow!)
Wayne Morgan, the show’s astute curator, was quick to recognize the pinball machine as a pure form of both two-dimensional genre art and three-dimensional “kinetic” art – art that can be played.
Following Morgan and McCarthy’s inspired effort, many pinball-based exhibitions have been staged in museums, art galleries and public venues but until now,
Two recent San Francisco area pinball exhibits are excellent examples of how public appreciation has grown since pinball graphics first entered the realm of fine art, in that same city, at Berggruen’s gallery, nearly 38 years ago.
Pinball Art: Fine Art appeared from February 5th through March 1st at the Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda curated by museum director Melissa Harmon.
The show featured original works by Dirty Donnie, Brian Holderman, Wade Krause, Michael Schiess, and William Wiley who re-themed pinball machines, by removing the old artwork, and replacing it with their own. The exhibit also included pages from Melissa Harmon’s book-in-progress Fashion in Pinball.
The other Bay Area pinball show, previously reported in Pinball News, was the San Francisco Airport Museum’s Pinball: From Bagatelle to Twilight Zone. The show ran from November 2009 to April 2010, featuring pinball machines and related objects from the collections of the Pacific Pinball Museum and Richard and Val Conger’s Silver Ball Ranch.
It now appears that interest in pinball graphics as fine art has spread from major urban centers to small town America. For Delray Beach, Florida (population 64,000) recently played host to Pinball Palooza at the Cornell Museum of Art and American Culture.
When we arrived to see the exhibit, my wife Pat and I were immediately struck by the Cornell Museum’s devotion to the Silver Ball.
Unfortunately, what appeared to be a monument to pinball (or a monumental pinball trophy), was actually statuary that had nothing to do with pinball. It was a gift from Delray Beach's Sister City, Miyazu in Kyoto, Japan.
A neon greeting was the next thing we encountered - neon, that we later learned, was provided by the Puppetry Arts Center in Palm Beach.
The museum deserves credit for recognizing that ballyhoo, rather than professorial musings provide the appropriate call-to-action.
As we got closer to the entrance, all was revealed. This was the Pinball Palooza – featuring select items from the expansive collection of Melbourne, Florida collector R. Steve Alberts.
I was surprised that I didn’t recognize Mr. Albert’s name since I thought I was aware of nearly all of America’s 3-digit collectors – a generally visible and fairly vocal group.
In any event, with the exception of a few games on loan from collector Christopher Lemon and Joey Restivo of Metropolis Entertainment, the majority of the machines and memorabilia listed below came from Steve’s extensive collection, resulting in the first-ever museum exhibition of pinball machines as art in the State of Florida.
All of the following were available for viewing by visitors to the Cornell Museum:
Darts, Williams, 1960
Evel Knievel, Bally, 1977
OTHER ITEMS IN THE EXHIBIT:
In addition to the pinball machines and related items on display the following four machines were set up for play in a mini-arcade:
Adding to the richness of the experience, a video monitor placed in the main exhibit hall allowed visitors to view Greg Maletic’s superb documentary Tilt: The Battle to Save Pinball.
Appropriately enough, a Revenge From Mars pinball machine sat next to the documentary viewing area. This was the first game released under the ill-fated Pinball 2000 concept, the last released under the Bally name and an important focus of the Tilt video.
All in all, Pinball Palooza was an excellent introduction to the fascinating world of pinball art and history for the citizens and tourists of South Florida and I’m happy to have had the opportunity to share it with Pinball News readers.
© Pinball News 2010