Glossary of Terms

George Rickey demonstrates his technique of working with wire
George Rickey demonstrates his technique of working with wire.
George Rickey observes in the installation of outdoor works at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY, 1979
George Rickey observes in the installation of outdoor works at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY, 1979
B

Ball Bearings

The type of bearings typically used on all of Rickey’s outdoor sculptures after the mid-1960s. Ball bearings are more precise and secure than knife edges and cradles in outdoor conditions where wind and weather can play havoc on delicately balanced sculpture; they allow for a more varied movement, both planar and excentric. Unlike knife edges, ball bearings permit a full 360 degrees of rotation, thus expanding the aesthetic possibilities.

“With ball bearings I can attempt devices which would have moved clumsily on simpler knife edge bearings.”

“Technology,” George Rickey: Skulpturen, Material, Technik, Amerika Haus Berlin, 1979, p. 37

Bearing Housing

Bearing housings are modular assemblies that contain bearings and shafts. They are designed to make it easier to install those parts, while protecting and extending their operating life, and simplifying their maintenance.

Close up of opposing knife edge, Column of Two Lines with Gimbals (1976, stainless steel). Estate of George Rickey.
Close up of opposing knife edge with cradle, Two Lines Down Oblique (1992, stainless steel). Estate of George Rickey.

Bearing, Knife-Edge

The same kind of bearing used to support the pendulum in a grandfather’s clock—a sharp knife-edge of steel rides in a hardened yoke. The pendulum or element being supported hangs between the bearing points, and it is very responsive to gentle indoor air currents but less suited to outdoor wind conditions. Typically, a knife edge bearing would allow for an arc of only 90 degrees. This configuration was used in Rickey’s early works. To increase stability, Rickey later used a second knife edge placed on the opposite side of the support bearing, allowing one knife edge to press up and the other to press down. This effectively locked the blade in place while leaving it free to move. He called this the opposing knife edge.

“My most sensitive bearing is still the polished knife edge, which has been known for centuries.”

“Technology,” George Rickey: Skulpturen, Material, Technik, Amerika Haus Berlin, 1979, p. 37

Two Lines Oblique (1971, stainless steel), Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY. Estate of George Rickey/George Rickey Foundation.

Blade

The single element in the category of works with "lines" in the title. Rickey first started to make blades in the early 1960s, a simplification of his more organic "sedge" elements. Blades were used singly, in pairs, and in multiple groupings (denoting many lines or blades).

“I have been using simple linear forms—‘blades’—since 1961. These lines permit the most economical manifestation that I have found, a kinetic line drawing in space. The taper from thick to thin is my equivalent to the line drawn with a pen or engraved with a burin.”

“Construction of a Blade,” George Rickey: Skulpturen, Material, Technik, Amerika Haus Berlin, 1979, p. 42

C

Conical Movement

The movement created by sculpture elements set at a 45-degree angle to the support post. Conical movement is a synonym for excentric movement.

“Balancing a structure on a single pivot point or on gimbals permits the complex movements of a tightrope walker. If a wheel turns on a shaft not at 90 degrees it develops a disturbing wobble… The path of such movement is not through a plane, but through a cone. When these movements are regular the paths can be easily represented by paper cones.”

“Conical Movement,” George Rickey: Skulpturen, Material, Technik, Amerika Haus Berlin, 1979, p. 54

Conical Segment

After Rickey began exploring excentric movement, he created sculptures with elements whose movements describe a conical form.

“I had already explored the conical movement of a line. With (these pieces) I made the line describe a surface.”

“Two Conical Segments, 1978-79,” George Rickey in Berlin, Berlinische Galerie, 1992, p. 233

Counterweight

The weight below the pivot point fulcrum that balances the weight above the pivot point.

E

Excentric

A term borrowed from biology, having the normally central portion not in the true center. In sculpture, the moving elements have their pivoting shaft set at 45 degrees. The movement of the sculptural parts describe a conical arc through space rather than a simple planar movement. This lends an inherent visual tension as the elements sweep widely away then return on a near collision course to the apex of their swing.

Excentric Gyratory

Combines both the excentric and gyratory movements in a sculpture.

G

Gimbal

Derived from a gimbal that supports a compass or lantern on a boat and keeps it level despite the rolling motion of the ship on the sea. A set of two pairs of knife-edge bearings perpendicular to each other, which together allow very free movement of the sculptural element suspended between them.

“The essentials of a gimbal are a pair of bearings mounted within another pair, with the axes of these two pairs at 90 degrees to each other. Each set of paired bearings permits movements through an arc in a plane.”

“Gimbals,” George Rickey: Skulpturen, Material, Technik, Amerika Haus Berlin, 1979, p. 46

Grinding Pattern

Whereas other artists have used stainless steel grinding patterns in a more deliberate calligraphic style, Rickey settled on a random pattern in which light and reflection took precedence over the artists’ brushwork. These grinding patterns can give a 3-dimensional effect to a flat surface.

Gyratory

The moving sculptural elements (blades, rectangles, squares, etc.) have the ability to revolve 360 degrees around their central post support.

J

Jointed

Sculptural elements are joined sequentially; each element is allowed to move independently and in unison with its attached element(s).

“I decided to combine two phenomena: first, pairs of linked components; then these mounted so that the movement of each in relation to the other was through a non-planar path. This produced a controlled, yet apparently random path, a sort of organized disorder.”

“Reflections while Building a Sculpture for Berlin,” George Rickey in Berlin, Berlinische Galerie, 1992, p. 338

O

Open

A rectangle, triangle, square, or any other shape where the sculptural element is an open frame instead of a closed or solid plane.

P

Pendulum, Simple

Like a clock pendulum, which pivots from two knife edge bearing support points at its top.

“All of the sculptures here make use, in some form, of the principle of the pendulum, which, in a clock, consists of a fulcrum, a stiff rod, and a lead weight. The principle is less obvious in a large blade swinging in the wind outdoors; but that also has a fulcrum (the shaft) and a counterweight (the lead) while the stiff blade itself functions on the rod… The time of the swing is constant.”

“Pendulum,” George Rickey: Skulpturen, Material, Technik, Amerika Haus Berlin, 1979, p. 39

Pendulum, Compound

The pendulum is the basis of all of Rickey’s movement regardless of the configuration of elements or type of movement employed. In Rickey’s sculpture, the pivot point is often one-sixth of the distance from the bottom to the top of a sculptural element. A lead counterweight below the pivot point (center of gravity) balances the rest of the length (weight) above the pivot point. As a result, the element is just at the point of instability, making it very sensitive to light air currents.

“When some of the weight is above (the fulcrum)—A ‘compound’ pendulum—the rules change; time becomes then a function between the ‘moments’ (weight x distance) above and below the fulcrum. As this difference decreases the time of the pendulum swing increases. When the moments are equal the system is unstable; either end can go up. I work on the threshold of this instability by controlling the relation of the upper and lower weights.”

“Pendulum,” George Rickey: Skulpturen, Material, Technik, Amerika Haus Berlin, 1979, p. 39-41

Plane

A closed square as in Rickey’s Two Planes Vertical, Horizontal (1968-1969).

“A plane pushed through space may describe a volume.”

“Surfaces and Volumes,” George Rickey in Berlin, Berlinische Galerie, 1992, p. 166

Post

A vertical support shaft to which the moving elements are attached. In small indoor works, this is attached to a wood, stone, or stainless-steel base. In large outdoor works it is anchored to a concrete or steel plate support.

Position at Rest

Each element in a Rickey sculpture is carefully balanced to return it to a specific position as its motion slows and stops.

Posture

The position of one or more sculptural elements respective to each other or to a vertical post.

R

Rotor

An element with a double pointed post (pin) at its pivot point; any small or large element which spins around a central axis. Rickey created hundreds of sculptures made up of rotors (4-finned or multi-finned).

S

Shock Absorber

The mechanism that slows and cushions a blade, stopping it gently when it reaches the end of its designated movement.

“If the design (of a sculpture) does not permit it to move in free full revolution (360 degrees), the movement must be stopped or dampened gently to prevent damage… I had to rebuild (automotive) shock absorbers so that they cushioned while lengthening—‘in extension’— and returned automatically to their starting position. ‘Single action in extension, automatic in return.’”

“Shock Absorbers,” George Rickey: Skulpturen, Material, Technik, Amerika Haus Berlin, 1979, p. 44

Square Section

Same as triangular section (see below) but utilizing four sheets with folded flanges; each flange is spot welded to form a strong but light sculptural element.

Spiral

The spiral wound from wire to create a counterweight for wire elements in smaller sculptures. Rickey began making thin wire sculptures from stainless steel welding wire in 1971.

“How could I attach a counterweight (to these wire sculptures)? I did not attach it; I wound the wire itself, as compactly, as tightly as I could around a narrow smooth core of steel about a centimeter wide, perhaps 20 turns of 1 mm wire. Then I pulled out the core and something unexpected happened. The wire had been soft steel but, in winding it tightly, each turn was work-hardened and stretched. There was now inherent tension at each U corner. When I pulled out the core, each turn sprang open a little and the 20 turns formed a tight, condensed spiral, which was now my counterweight.”

“Group of Four Triangles with Spirals, 1971,” George Rickey in Berlin, Berlinische Galerie, 1992, p. 195

T

Triangular section

All of Rickey’s small blades are constructed from stainless steel, bronze, or copper sheets folded and tapered to their ends. This tapered form provides strength and creates a receptacle below the pivot point for a lead counterweight. In many of Rickey’s outdoor sculptures, various elements—blades, open rectangles, Ls, and circles—were fabricated from sheet metal forming a triangular-shaped box with flanges. The flanges were spot-welded resulting in a lightweight and very strong member. This method of construction was used in his earliest line works, such as Two Red Lines (1963-1975), or Two Lines Temporal (1963), and throughout his career.

Timing

A factor of speed, resistance, and distance of travel, giving Rickey sculptures a gentle movement.

“Timing is an aesthetic decision.”
“Technology,” George Rickey: Skulpturen, Material, Technik, Amerika Haus Berlin, 1979, p. 25
W

Wire Sculptures

Works formed from stainless steel or silver wire. These works were sometimes gilded.

“I tried to find ways of coiling wire to make a compact counterweight, of bending and hammering knife edges to swing on, and of flattening the end of a wire as a sail— thus obtaining the essentials of my blade sculptures. Everything had four principle parts; an extended form—linear or planar—an attached counterweight, so that the point of balance came close to one end, a pair of knife edge bearings, riding on a pair of matching polished notches, as close to frictionless as I could get, on a support...”
“Group of Four Triangles with Spirals, 1971,” George Rickey in Berlin, Berlinische Galerie, 1992, p. 193