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Study for “Those Who Transmit and Those Who Reach for American Cultural Traditions,” Knox College (1941, Gouache on board, 30” x 20.5”). George Rickey Foundation.


From early in his career, Rickey was creating work specifically for the public. In his mural projects at Olivet and Knox Colleges, and in the Post Office at Selinsgrove, PA, Rickey was faced with the challenge of being able to engage the viewer from an often awkward, predetermined space, while reflecting the ideals and values of his patrons. He spent considerable time conducting research and visiting the surrounding areas to inform his subject matter.

Though no longer troubled by issues of subject matter, Rickey took the same care he had with the murals when planning the design and placement of sculptures commissioned by public and private collectors. By making site visits, taking photos, and making notes and sketches, Rickey took care to design pieces that created a relationship with the landscape and with the viewer.

The Cocktail Party (1954, Unique, Stainless steel and painted mild steel, 16” x 24”). Private collection. Photo: Marc Zaref.

Even with sculptures that were not made for a specific client or public institution, Rickey was aware that the audience was an essential component to his work. [See The Cocktail Party (1954)] The polished surfaces reflect the viewers and their surroundings, making them both part of the setting and part of the sculpture itself. A person can cause a sculpture to react by moving slightly, thus setting off a change in the air currents that sets it into motion.

Conversation Grenoble (1991, 1/3, Stainless steel, 19’4” x 5’7”). Musee de Grenoble, Grenoble, France. Photo: David Lee.

As the number of elements are multiplied in a sculpture, so too are the conversations that are possible within the piece and, therefore, with the viewer. Two identical elements could be placed in opposition on a post, ready to disagree, yet the wind will often bring them together. [See Conversation Grenoble (1991)] Elements that look the same and appear to be arranged to move together often behave in a very different way. [See Five Lines in Parallel Planes (1966)]

Five Lines in Parallel Planes (1966, Unique, Stainless steel, 25’4” height). George Rickey Foundation. Photo: Diego Flores, Kasmin Gallery.

Rickey challenged what viewers expected. Objects are naturally balanced when centered on posts, so Rickey placed them at excentric angles. Triangles are the most stable of shapes, so he shook them up by creating them from moving lines. Columns should not break and fall, only to re-form, yet Rickey’s do. [See video of Breaking Column III (1993-2001)] There is more, Rickey’s work seems to say, to the relationships one thinks one knows.

Video of Breaking Column III (1993-2000, 3/3, Stainless steel, 25’3” x 14’). Private collection. Video: Brad Daniels.

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