George Rickey, Three Squares Gyratory II, 1973-1975, 51°57'27.2"N 7°37'49.8"E

George Rickey, Rotierende Quadrate, 1973. Installation view

Credit

The sculpture Three Squares Gyratory II by the US-American artist George Rickey is located on the Engelenschanze, a green area on Münster’s Promenade. Already its title serves as a description of the work, for even the slightest breeze sets the three squares made of stainless steel in motion – unimpeded, almost dancing. Affixed at the height of three metres to a pole of the same material, one notices only at second glance that these are pendular movements, following the principle of the compound pendulum, which are triggered by accurately calculated lead counterweights set inside the squares.1 Depending on the time of day and solar radiation, light reflects on the surfaces of the squares, whereby the sculpture enters into dialogue with its environment, as it is influenced by it and likewise influences it. The sculpture, like most of George Rickey’s works, can thus be considered as exemplary for the genre of kinetic art. A defining element hereof is a specific movement as an integral part of the work, a movement generally powered by air, light, water, fire or even chemical processes. Other kinetic works in Münster’s public space are Otto Piene’s Silberne Frequenz (Silver Frequency, 1970/71) on the façade of the LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur, which at night turns into a play of light patterns, or Heinz Mack’s Wasser-Plastik (Water Sculpture, 1977), where water flows from the top part of a high pillar consisting of paired metal blades that are slightly slanted toward the top, thus creating a fine fog that visually varies with the incidence of light.

With the Three Squares Gyratory II, as with other works by Rickey, the playful movement of the seemingly weightless squares create a choreography that contrasts with the heavy material of the sculpture. Through the movement, components like time and rhythm are likewise incorporated into the work. The sculpture’s per se static medium is thus broken up; movement is not only implied or depicted, but actually occurs. With regard to this proximity to nature evoked through the concrete movement, the artist stated: “It is not by imitating its appearances that kinetic art draws on ‘nature’, but rather by identifying its laws, recognizing analogies and adapting them to the comprehensive repertoire of motion and space.” 2

What today may be perceived as a subtle and well-conceived sculpture, provoked a scandal among the citizens of Münster in the years before its placement in May 1975. In the mid-1970s non-representational sculptures still meant “new ground” to many, and to make matters worse, they were to be presented in public space. Though the art commission of the City of Münster, founded in 1967, had unanimously decided in favour of the placement of the Three Squares Gyratory II in the fall of 1974, and thus for the city’s first non-representational, freestanding sculpture, the decision gave rise to lengthy and lively discussions in the municipal council and among the residents of Münster. It was above all the sculpture’s artistic character that was called into question, not least because it broke with conventional viewing habits. 3 Letters to the editor in the local press further heated the general debate, which in turn resulted in citizens making a variety of counterproposals.

In the end, the WestLB bank donated the sculpture to the City, which then was installed on the Engelenschanze in May 1975. As a result, Klaus Bußmann – later director of the LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur and influential member of the art commission – viewed the emotionally charged debate as an incitement to focus on contemporary tendencies in sculpture. Already two years later, this endeavour was realized together with Kaspar König, in the form of the first Skulptur Ausstellung in Münster 1977 (Sculpture Exhibition in Münster, 1977), paving the way for the Skulptur Projekte, which since then have taken place every ten years.

Franca Zitta

1

Cf.: Barbara Klössel, Moderne Kunst in Münster, Münster 1986, 36; Marisa L. Lalanne, “George Rickey – Drei Rotierende Quadrate, Variation II 1973”, in: Hans Galen (eds.), Zeitgenössische Skulptur im öffentlichen Raum. Das Beispiel Münster, exh. cat. Stadtmuseum Münster, 16 December 1991–15 March 1992, 34.

2

George Rickey in: György Kepes, The Nature of Motion, New York 1965, quoted here from: Lalanne, 1992, 34–35, 103, quote translated here by Barbara Lang.

3

See “The Research Group of the Skulptur Projekte Archive in Conversation with Klaus Bußmann: A Commitment to Art and Public“, in: Hermann Arnhold, Ursula Frohne & Marianne Wagner (eds.), Public Matters: Debatten & Dokumente aus dem Skulptur Projekte Archiv, Cologne 2019, 58-59.