Have you noticed something different about the Academy as you drive by? On Aug. 2, we welcomed a new arrival on the museum’s front lawn, near the corner of Beretania and Victoria streets. That silver, monumental kinetic sculpture is by American artist George Rickey (1907-2002). You might recognize the work—Two Rectangles Eccentric (1977)—from the Federal Building, where it normally lives, and for which it was commissioned in 1976. The sculpture is on loan from the General Services Administration for an extended period while the Federal Building undergoes renovation.
Standing more than 30 feet tall, Two Rectangles Eccentric is one of Rickey’s largest sculptures and towers above viewers as it moves gracefully in the air, activated by wind currents, while the brushed stainless steel of which it is made glints in the sunlight. The two open rectangular forms pivot on their carefully engineered ball-bearing joints that Rickey developed so that the moving parts of his sculptures will never make contact with each other.
Rickey was born in Indiana, grew up in Scotland, and began his art studies in Paris. When he returned to the U.S., he taught in various schools as part of the Carnegie Corporation’s Visiting Artists/Artists in Residence program and mostly painted. During World War II, Rickey joined the Army, where he worked as an engineer, designing machine gun turrets for bombers. Rickey later noted that it was this experience that taught him about high-quality ball bearings, balancing weights, riveting sheet metal, and lightweight construction techniques that were to become the foundation for his sculpture. After the war Rickey returned to art studies and shifted his focus from painting to sculpture. In the early 1950s, he began creating his signature kinetic sculptures, whose delicately balanced metal parts move with seeming ease and weightlessness in the wind. And since the wind is always changing, Rickey’s works perform in an endless series of dancelike sweeps and gyrations.
Two smaller examples of Rickey’s kinetic sculpture, Two Open Triangles Up Gyratory (1982) and Breaking Column (1988), are in the museum’s collection and installed in the gardens at Spalding House in Makiki Heights. Take a break from your crazy workaday world by relaxing on the lush lawn and enjoy the mesmerizing effects of these contemporary works.
Many thanks to conservators Tom Podner, conservator of sculpture with the McKay Lodge Conservation Laboratory in Ohio, Michael Jones of Art Services, and the crew of Hawaiian Crane & Rigging. And of course, to our own hard-working, multitasking installation crew.