George Rickey (1907-2002) was an American artist, best known for his large-scale moving sculptures. Many of his artworks were designed to be seen outside: large geometric forms, made of shiny stainless steel that reflect their changing surroundings, and naturally powered by breezes. His innovative sculptures are a unique combination of dynamic art and engineering precision.
Rickey’s father was a mechanical engineer and his grandfather was a clockmaker, and they both encouraged his childhood interest in engineering and design. Rickey studied painting and drawing at school, both in the United States and in Europe; then he learned about mechanics and the effects of wind and gravity during his time in the Army Air Corps. Using these skills, he became an art teacher and an increasingly well-known artist, working mainly in the United States and exhibiting all over the world.
One holiday when he was a child, his father gave George a steam engine. He recalled:
As his international artistic career developed, George Rickey was a regular participant in the Documenta exhibitions of contemporary art, held every five years in Kassel, Germany. He exhibited there in the 1960s and in 1968 opened a second studio in Berlin, forming close relationships with the local art community. Consequently, the then-Director of the Neue Nationalgalerie commissioned what has become one of Rickey’s most famous outdoor moving sculptures, Four Squares in a Square (1969-1970), designed specifically for the plaza of Mies van der Rohe’s iconic museum building. Over fifty works by Rickey are in public German art collections.
Rickey wanted his art to be accessible to the public, saying:
George Rickey is the first artist to be featured in a solo exhibition at Schlossgut Schwante. Not only is it a first for the Sculpture Park, this show is also the first time Rickey has been offered such a large platform for outdoor sculpture in Europe since the 1980s.
The Schwante Sculpture Park, located 25 km outside of Berlin, opened to the public in 2020 and explores relationships between art and nature. The landscape of the ten-hectare park in combination with the striking facade of the castle offers multiple perspectives—the perfect backdrop for Rickey’s dynamic, moving sculptures.
Rickey thought a lot about the relationship between art and nature. Describing his own work, he noted:
Sculpture is a form of art that is three dimensional, meaning it has height, width, and depth. George made large-sized sculptures to be placed in the landscape outdoors. Sculptures can be made of stone, wood, metal, clay, or any other materials. George chose to use stainless steel, a smooth metal that shows reflections.
George also chose to make his sculptures kinetic, meaning they move. Geometric parts shaped like squares, triangles, circles, lines, and zig zags rotate at different speeds depending on the wind. He used movement that ranged from back and forth (called “harmonic motion”) to circular paths (called “gyrating”).
1964-1979, Stainless steel, Unique, 442 x 685.8 x 86.4 cm, Collection George Rickey Foundation
This sculpture is made of six stainless steel lines, or blades, that are attached to a vertical post.
1985, Stainless steel, Edition 3/3, 165.1 x 184.2 x 20.3 cm, Collection George Rickey Foundation
Rickey used many geometric shapes in his sculptures, including rectangles, squares, circles, and triangles.
1979, Stainless steel, Edition 0/3 Study, 312.4 x 315 cm, Collection George Rickey Foundation
With Conical Segments Gyratory Gyratory II, Rickey illustrates movement.
1986, Stainless steel, 129.5 cm, Private collection courtesy Galerie Thomas
This artwork looks very simple, three large squares in a row, but is actually quite complicated, as each square balances on its corner and sways gently with the breeze.
1972, Stainless steel, Unique, 165.7 x 83.8 x 74.9 cm, Collection George Rickey Foundation
Rickey’s art is abstract, but from the mid-1950s until the 1970s he made a series of sculptures that refer to the race to outer space that was in the news.
1991, Stainless steel, Edition 1/3, 238.8 x 124.5 cm, Collection George Rickey Foundation
Three Rectangles Horizontal Jointed Gyratory IV uses closed or solid rectangles to reflect the surrounding landscape and give the illusion that that landscape is in motion.
c.2002, Stainless steel, Study, 457.2 x 243.8 cm, Collection George Rickey Foundation
This sculpture, a large circle set on a pole, is one of Rickey’s last large artworks.
1966, Stainless steel, Unique, 772.2 x 685.8 cm, Collection George Rickey Foundation
Five Lines in Parallel Planes shows off Rickey’s engineering precision. The motion of each of these long metal lines, also called blades, is controlled by ball bearings and shock absorbers.
Rickey Schwante was developed by Lisa Beth Podos with the assistance of Maria Lizzi, Amanda Perry, Victoria Petway, and Hilary Vlastelica.
© George Rickey Foundation, Inc.