Collection, Photo by Elizabeth Leitzell x1200

Williams College Announces Class of 1961 Public Art Fund and Purchase of George Rickey Sculpture

For immediate release: March 9, 2011

Williams announced today that the Class of 1961, as a gift to the college on the occasion of its 50th reunion, has created a public art fund. Members of the class hope that the fund, for which they have committed to raise $2.5 million, will encourage and support the ongoing acquisition of works of art to be displayed in indoor and outdoor public spaces on the Williams campus.

The first acquisition supported by the fund is a kinetic sculpture by the American artist George Rickey (1907-2002). Double L Excentric Gyratory II (1981) is due to arrive on campus by June. A video of the art can be viewed.

At 30 feet tall, the piece consists of two 18-foot stainless steel “L”s that move in a conical section, reaching out into space in a series of dancer-like movements. One moment rigid, cool, erect, the next fluid and soaring, the sculpture comes as close as Rickey ever did to implying the human body in one of his works, while its scale ensures an active dialogue with campus architecture. The piece will face Main Street, between the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance and the Greylock residential halls.

“At Williams many students learn about art for the first time, as I did,” says E.J. Johnson, Class of 1959 and professor of art, who participated with other faculty and administrators on an ad hoc committee to review potential public art locations on campus. “Those who take Aspects of Western Art often say that it changes the way they look at the world, partly because they notice buildings and sculpture for the first time. Having wonderful works of sculpture around campus enhances this educational experience splendidly. The Rickey will become part of daily life, gleaming in the sun, waving in the breeze, rotating on its tall base in sympathy with the movement of students along the curved path between the theater and Greylock Quad.”

President Adam Falk will appoint a standing Committee on Public Art to administer the fund. Chaired by the director of the Williams College Museum of Art, it will represent faculty, staff, students, and alumni. The committee will meet annually to identify places on campus that are suitable for public art and make recommendations to the museum’s acquisition committee.

“Like other innovative arts endeavors that have long characterized the Williams experience, placing art in public places on campus further underscores our commitment to human creativity and to the significance of the arts within a liberal arts education,” says Lisa Corrin, Class of 1956 Director of the Williams College Museum of Art. “Art acquired through The Class of 1961 Public Art Fund will also contribute to creating a welcoming environment for members of our community and visitors to Williamstown encouraging them to enjoy the special beauty of our campus.” The college anticipates using the fund periodically to purchase new or existing works and to support the costs of bringing them to the campus.

“Although Williams has previously supported site-specific sculpture by outstanding artists such as Louise Bourgeois and Jenny Holzer, the college now has a program that will define future enhancements and establish involvement of a cross section of the college community on a wide scale,” says Bob Buck, Class of 1961, former director of The Brooklyn Museum and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo.

Max Davidson, Class of 1961, President and founder of The Maxwell Davidson Gallery in New York, says this of Rickey’s work, “Rickey often said that emulating nature was not one of his artistic goals yet he referred to it as often as he eschewed it, and his outdoor sculptures blend seamlessly with their surroundings. The interplay of nature and the sculpture as machine is always present in Rickey’s work. He instinctively uses these forces in opposition … Intellectually, he harnessed both sides with refined taste and a light touch.”

About George Rickey

George Rickey was born in South Bend, Indiana, in 1907. When his father, who worked for the Singer Sewing Machine Co. was given a job running a plant in Scotland, the whole family moved near Glasgow. Rickey went to Trinity College in Glenalmond, Scotland, before entering Balliol College, Oxford in the fall of 1926, where he read modern history. He convinced his parents that he wanted to be an artist and was allowed to attend classes in drawing at the Ruskin School, and then studied painting in Paris at André Lhote’s academy and at the Académie Moderne with Fernand Léger and Amédée Ozenfant.

During the 1930s, he painted first in a Cézannesque style, later in a Depression-era, social realist mode. He taught the classics at Groton, and at a series of colleges and universities, which included a stint at Indiana University from 1949 to 1955, where he was given the title ‘Professor of Design.’ This was the outgrowth of his World War II service. Rickey served in the Army Air Corps, and having demonstrated a strong mechanical aptitude that combined with his abilities as a painter led him to do an illustrated maintenance manual for servicing the gun sights in bombers. The work required both mechanical skill and an understanding of the effects of wind and gravity on ballistics, laying the foundation of his move from painting to kinetic sculpture.

Under the G.I. Bill, Rickey studied at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University and from 1948 to 1949 attended the Institute of Design in Chicago, an outpost of Bauhaus teaching. Intrigued by both the history of constructivist art and by the mobiles of Alexander Calder, he began creating kinetic sculptures. In the 1950s and early 1960s, Rickey developed systems of motion for his sculpture that responded to the slightest variation in air currents. Soon breaking away from the catenary systems used by Alexander Calder, he developed over the next three decades sculptures with parts made of lines, planes, rotors, volumes, and space churns, moving in paths that changed from simple oscillation to conical gyrations, describing a variety of planes or volumes. Many works during this period have been large-scale public commissions for sites in the United States, Europe, and Japan. Rickey died in St. Paul, Minnesota, on 17 July 2002 at the age of 95.

George Rickey’s work is in the collections of virtually every major museum in the United States as well as in throughout Europe and the Far East. His most important blade sculpture, Two Lines Temporal I (1964) is on permanent view in the Museum of Modern Art’s sculpture garden. Another major example of his geometric sculptures, Cluster of Four Cubes (1992), was acquired by the National Gallery of Art for its sculpture garden. He received an Honorary Degree from Williams in 1972.