The Art, The History, The Game

Dates: December 1, 2009 – March 28, 2010
Location: Cornell Museum of Art & American Culture, Old School Square, 51 North Swinton Avenue, Delray Beach, Florida 33444, USA

Article & Photography by Gordo and Patricia Hasse

Little by little the pinball machine has begun to achieve appropriate recognition as a uniquely American pop-culture icon and a subject worthy of serious artistic contemplation.

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.

1972 poster for pinball art exhibit at the John Berggruen Gallery in San Francisco
1972 poster for pinball art exhibit at the John Berggruen Gallery in San Francisco

Catalog from the 1974-1975 Canadian TILT! exhibit
Catalog from the 1974-1975 Canadian TILT! exhibit

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,
most have appeared in large urban centers in the Northeast, the Midwest and the West Coast.

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.

Monument on the side lawn of the Cornell Museum of Art & American Culture
Monument on the side lawn of the Cornell Museum of Art & American Culture

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.

Neon “attract mode” in front of the Cornell Museum
Neon “attract mode” in front of the Cornell Museum

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.

Show signage
Show signage

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.

Pinball Palooza: The Art, The History, The Game
Pinball Palooza: The Art, The History, The Game

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:

Unknown square pinball, Peo, 1932
Signal, Bally, 1934
Thriller, Keeney, 1939
Sporty, Chicago Coin, 1940

Keeney’s 1939 Thriller
Keeney's 1939 Thriller

Chicago Coin’s 1940 Sporty
Chicago Coin's 1940 Sporty

Darts, Williams, 1960
Bonanza, Gottlieb, 1964
King of Diamonds, Gottlieb, 1967
El Toro, Bally, 1970
King Kool, Gottlieb, 1972
Monte Carlo, Bally, 1972
Wizard!, Bally, 1974
Aladdin’s Castle, Bally, 1976
Capt. Fantastic, Bally, 1976
Eight Ball, Bally, 1977

Bally’s 1976 Captain Fantastic & 1977 Eight Ball
Bally’s 1976 Capt. Fantastic Bally’s 1977 Eight Ball

Evel Knievel, Bally, 1977
Stars, Stern, 1978
The Incredible Hulk, Gottlieb, 1979
Harlem Globetrotters on Tour, Bally, 1979
Roller Disco, Gottlieb, 1979
Star Trek, Bally, 1979
Ali, Stern, 1980
The Amazing Spider-Man, Gottlieb, 1980
Black Knight, Williams, 1980
Haunted House, Gottlieb, 1982
Pinbot, Williams, 1986
F-14 Tomcat, Williams, 1987
The Addams Family, Bally, 1992
Attack from Mars, Bally, 1995
Revenge from Mars, Bally, 1999

Loop-The-Loop, Bally, 1966
Airport, Gottlieb, 1969
Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Gottlieb, 1978
Charlie’s Angels, Gottlieb, 1979
Totem, Gottlieb, 1979
Shaq Attaq, Gottlieb, 1994
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Sega, 1995
Airborne, Capcom, 1996

Miami Beach, Gottlieb, 1941
Bank-A-Ball, Gottlieb, 1965
Playboy, Bally, 1979

Gottlieb’s 1965 Bank-A-Ball
Gottlieb’s 1965 Bank-A-Ball

Black Jack, Bally, 1976
Bobby Orr's Power Play, Bally, 1977
Twilight Zone, Bally, 1993

Bally’s 1976 Captain Fantastic & 1977 Eight Ball
Bally’s 1976 Black Jack & Bally’s 1977 Bobby Orr’s Power Play

This included a nice assortment of American, British and Japanese bagatelles from the 1930s through the 1960s designed for the home market, including table, hand-held and miniature models.

Light Box #1
Light Box #1

Light Box #2
Light Box #2


  • Captain Fantastic & the Brown Dirt Cowboy record jacket

  • A large assortment of arcade tokens

  • Lonnie Irving’s recording of “Pinball Machine” on the Starday label

  • The Willis Brothers’ recording of “Pinball Anonymous” on the Starday label

  • “Tommy” album cover

  • DVD of “Pinball Science”

  • 4 display boards providing a brief history of pinball

  • A binder containing pinball advertising “flyers”


In addition to the pinball machines and related items on display the following four machines were set up for play in a mini-arcade:

Arcade: Taito Bust-A-Move, Gottlieb 1967 Hi-Score, Midway Pac-Man Jr. and Williams 1976 Space Odyssey
Arcade: Taito Bust-A-Move, Gottlieb 1967 Hi-Score, Midway Pac-Man Jr. and Williams 1976 Space Odyssey.


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.


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