Get Visual is the proud recipient of a grant from The Christos N. Apostle Charitable Trust

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Now that’s more like it! (Sculpture in the Streets)

Rectangles Horizontal Jointed, Big, Thin, Small 1990
A year ago I posted a review of Sculpture in the Streets, a program of the Downtown Albany BID, that was titled For Shame! because I was appalled at the BID’s decision to feature the work of Seward Johnson, an artist with popular appeal but very little else to offer.

It’s a pleasure to report that this year’s installation is a complete turnaround. Five strong pieces by the late, great George Rickey comprise the walking tour, which is in place through next March, augmented by previously existing installations of four other Rickey sculptures in Albany, Colonie, and Troy. The result is an extraordinary opportunity to experience the elements of time and space in the direct way that only the best art can offer, and sculpture in particular above all other media.

Column of Four Squares Excentric Gyratory III, Var II 1990
Rickey worked in nearby Chatham, and his local friends and followers are many – two of them, Matthew Bender and Charles Liddle are among the financial sponsors of this event. They and the other private and corporate sponsors, as well as the project’s planners at the BID, deserve applause for providing this gift to the public. They already know what I hope any newcomer to Rickey’s art who takes the time to follow the walk will soon discover: that his work is worthy of the greatest admiration, and that we are incredibly lucky to have so much of it to enjoy here right now.

Rickey's innovations included the application of sophisticated engineering to the construction of kinetic steel sculpture, by which he created large, heavy objects that easily dance and sway in the slightest wind, always striking unexpected and remarkable feats of balance while changing composition and orientation almost constantly.

Three Squares Gyratory I 1971
His persistent use of stainless steel, finished with the whorls of a handheld grinder on every surface, is another stroke of genius, because it gives his pieces both consistency and an innate subtlety that belies their heft and hardness. This is especially important for two reasons: that the sculptures are rigorously geometric and that they are placed outdoors (except for the ones at the airport and the Albany Institute of History & Art, which are indoors but still exposed to a great deal of natural light).

This swirly finish allows the sculptures to float visually by catching and reflecting light with a level of intensity that blends with the background. And, in the case of the backgrounds seen around the works in this particular installation, there is great variety, making for wonderful appearing-and-disappearing effects.

Here’s some advice for getting the optimal experience when you go to visit these nearly living entities:

  1. Allow enough time: While it may be appealing to ride by in a car or pass quickly on foot during lunch or between errands, that won’t work. Even when there’s a good breeze, the sculptures may not do much at first – but, almost as if by magic, when you stop and watch, they will begin to perform.
  2. Speaking of that breeze: If the day is still, forget it. The slightest wind will activate these remarkably engineered constructions, but no wind will mean no action.
  3. Be sure to move around the sculptures: You’ve done it when confronted with a more traditional statue (say, in marble or bronze), and you must do it with these 360-degree objects as well if you want the full experience.
  4. Pay attention to the setting: These pieces have been thoughtfully sited, providing a lot of neat relationships between their shapes and surfaces and those around them. While Rickey himself tended to place his work in natural settings, the city siting suits them particularly well. Kudos once again to the show’s planners for choosing a great location for each piece.
  5. Bring a friend: It’s always more fun to share something lively, and this work is lively by design.
A downloadable tour map is available on the BID's site.

Rating: Must See

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