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George Rickey

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George Rickey
Breaking Column, stainless steel, 1988, Honolulu Museum of Art
Born(1907-06-06)June 6, 1907
DiedJuly 17, 2002(2002-07-17) (aged 95)
EducationUniversity of Oxford
Known forSculpture
MovementKinetic Sculpture

George Warren Rickey (June 6, 1907 – July 17, 2002) was an American kinetic sculptor.

Early life and education[edit]

Rickey was born on June 6, 1907, in South Bend, Indiana.[1] When Rickey was still a child, his father, an executive with Singer Sewing Machine Company, moved the family to Glasgow, Scotland, in 1913.[1] They lived near the river Clyde, and George learned to sail around the outer islands on the family's 30 feet (9.1 m) sailboat.

Rickey was educated at Glenalmond College and received a degree in history from Balliol College, Oxford, with frequent visits to the Ruskin School of Drawing. He spent a short time traveling Europe and, against the advice of his father, studied art in Paris at Académie L'Hote and Académie Moderne. He then returned to the United States and began teaching at the Groton School, where among his many students was future National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy.[citation needed]

After leaving Groton, Rickey worked at various schools throughout the country as part of the Carnegie Corporation Visiting Artists/Artists in Residence program (partially funded by the Works Progress Administration). His focus was primarily on painting. While taking part in these programs, he painted portraits, taught classes, and created a set of murals at Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois. He maintained an art studio in New York[clarification needed] from 1934 to 1942, when he was drafted.

Rickey's interest in things mechanical re-awakened during his wartime work in aircraft and gunnery systems research and maintenance. Following his discharge, he studied art at the New York University Institute of Fine Arts and later at the Chicago Institute of Design, funded by the G.I. Bill. He taught art at variety of colleges, including Muhlenberg College. While at Muhlenberg, he was commissioned by J. I. Rodale to illustrate an edition of Anton Chekhov's The Beggar and Other Tales. Rickey later moved on to Indiana University South Bend. There, he encountered and was inspired by the work of David Smith.[citation needed]

Kinetic sculpture[edit]

Rickey turned from painting to creating kinetic sculpture. Rickey combined his love of engineering and mechanics by designing sculptures whose metal parts moved in response to the slightest air currents.

His first sculpture was shown in New York in 1951 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art group show American Sculpture 1951. The Museum of Modern Art, in New York purchased his Two Lines Temporal I, after Alfred Barr, MOMA's then director, had seen it at the exhibition Documenta III in Kassel, Germany.[citation needed]

Rickey's sculptures can now be seen in major museums in the US and in most European capitals, Japan, and New Zealand. His work is often compared to the mobiles of Alexander Calder, but while Calder used organic, playful forms, Rickey's European lineage is more closely related to the Constructivist principles of geometric engineering. In 1967, he wrote Constructivism – origins and evolution, published by George Braziller, Inc., New York.[citation needed]

Two Open Triangles Up Gyratory, stainless steel, 1982, Honolulu Museum of Art
External videos
Three Rectangles Horizontal Jointed Gyratory III
video icon Kinetic sculpture on YouTube at the Delaware Art Museum (1:03)[2]

In works such as Two Open Triangles Up Gyratory, Rickey's two wind driven elements (engineered to withstand winds of 80 miles per hour (130 km/h)) provide an endless series of combined, almost dance like, shapes and movements.

Rickey mastered not only ordered predictable movements, but also mastered methods of controlling both the speed and tempo of similar objects to respond more randomly, such as in his work Four Open Rectangles Diagonal Jointed Gyratory V.[3]

Much of his work was created in his studio in East Chatham, New York, where he moved after taking a position as a professor of art (sculpture) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. His kinetic sculpture titled Two Rectangles, Vertical Gyratory Up, Variation III was a central element of the Rensselaer campus from 1972. It is now located in Zurich, Switzerland, at the headquarters of UBS.[4] This sculpture was known as the Chrinitoid when it was located on the Rensselaer campus on long term loan. It was removed after Rickey and Rensselaer could not agree on a purchase price.[5]

Rickey also lived and worked in Berlin for many years, following the Documenta III art show. His studio time was spent constructing sculpture and preparing for exhibitions in Europe. In Rickey's words the city was like a "cocoon" in the middle of communist East Germany, with a lively and advanced social and cultural life which he partook in fully. During this time he received numerous Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degrees.[citation needed]

In 1979 he had a retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Rickey's sculptures are on permanent exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, and the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., the Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza Art Collection in Albany, New York,[6] the San Diego Museum of Art, The Delaware Art Museum, The Indiana University Art Museum,[7] the Honolulu Museum of Art,[8] Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park,[9] and at the Laumeier Sculpture Park in St. Louis, The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, NY, and many other institutions.

In 1985, George Rickey had a major retrospective in South Bend, Indiana, the place of his birth. His sculptures were installed outside (and inside) of the South Bend Art Center, and also at the Snite Museum of Art on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. Rickey gave a presentation of his work at the Snite. One of the stories he told concerned how, as a result of a World War II-era, government-administered aptitude test, he was assigned to design machine gun turrets for bombers. It was in this job that he became familiar with the high-quality ball bearings, balancing weights, riveted sheet metal, lightweight aircraft construction techniques, and modern hardware (and the vendors for same) that were to become the mechanical foundation for his later forays into lightweight, delicately balanced, wind-activated kinetic sculpture.[citation needed]

Rickey died at his home in Saint Paul, Minnesota, on July 17, 2002, at the age of 95. The Rickey Estate is currently represented by Kasmin Gallery in New York City.[10] The Rickey archive will have a permanent home at Notre Dame.[11]


Honors and awards[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Johnson, Ken (July 21, 2002). "George Rickey, Sculptor Whose Works Moved, Dies at 95". The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 8, 2014. Retrieved May 7, 2014.
  2. ^ "Kinetic sculpture at the Delaware Art Museum". Delaware Art Museum. October 20, 2011. Archived from the original on July 14, 2014. Retrieved March 19, 2013.
  3. ^ "moving pieces on youtube". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2017-04-14. Retrieved 2017-04-14.
  4. ^ "George Rickey Foundation—Public Collection". www.georgerickey.org. Retrieved 2024-04-06.
  5. ^ "Rensselaer: Winter 2004 | Institute Archives and Special Collections Digital Assets". digitalassets.archives.rpi.edu. Retrieved 2024-04-06.
  6. ^ "Empire State Plaza Art Collection". Archived from the original on 6 November 2018. Retrieved 21 November 2018.
  7. ^ Indiana University Art Museum website, https://artmuseum.indiana.edu/on-view/on-site-sculpture.html Archived 2015-09-28 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Honolulu Museum of Art, Spalding House Self-guided Tour, Sculpture Garden, 2014, p. 13
  9. ^ "George Rickey | Meijer Gardens". www.meijergardens.org. Archived from the original on 2016-12-20. Retrieved 2016-12-15.
  10. ^ Sheets, Hilary M. (2 November 2020). "The estate of George Rickey, who created balletic kinetic sculptures, now at Kasmin gallery". theartnewspaper.com. Retrieved 16 January 2021.
  11. ^ "George Rickey Sculpture Archive". sniteartmuseum.nd.edu. Retrieved 16 January 2021.
  • Honolulu Museum of Art, Spalding House Self-guided Tour, Sculpture Garden, 2014, p. 13
  • Kvaran, Einar Einarsson, An Annotated Inventory of Outdoor Sculpture in Washtenaw County, Master's Degree Project, 1989.
  • Lizzi, Maria. Archivist, George Rickey Workshop, East Chatham, NY
  • New Jersey State Museum, Sculptures by George Rickey and James Seawright, New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, 1970.
  • Popper, Frank, Origins and Development of Kinetic Art, Studio Vista and New York Graphic Society, 1968.
  • Thalacker, Donald, The Place of Art In the World of Architecture, Chelsea House Publishers, New York, 1980, pp. 61–63.

External links[edit]