Sound and Spectacle: Harry Bertoia and George Rickey

June 26 – December 31, 2024
Jackson Hole, WY


“Lines permit the most economical manifestation of movement I have found, a kinetic drawing in space.” – George Rickey


“I think it’s very important to make art that you have to wait for.” – George Rickey


What does art sound like? What do we feel when a sculpture in motion reminds us of the temporality of life? This exhibition studies the contributions of Harry Bertoia and George Rickey, two pioneers of kinetic and sound-based art of the 20th century. Their works deepen our sensory awareness and invite us to find rhythm and resonance in the interplay of motion and stillness, sound, and silence. Drawn from a single private collection, the show presents pieces that have not been exhibited in decades.

In this groundbreaking exhibition, Heather James is proud to present the works of Harry Bertoia and George Rickey in the first duo exhibition that showcases their innovative approaches to art and sculpture. Comparing and contrasting Bertoia and Rickey, who lived and worked at the same time, helps illuminate the nuances of their work. By providing historical context for these two contemporaries, the exhibition also seeks to ground the works within a wider framework of art history while pointing to their relevance in today’s world. We invite you to experience the convergence of space, time, and sound and contemplate the dynamics of movement within a sculptural soundscape environment.


The great 18th-century painter William Hogarth theorized the line of beauty as a double curved (or S-shaped) line, one example being an ogee. For Hogarth and other artists, the serpentine line represented movement and sensuality, while a straight line represented something static, unmoving, or death.

But what if a straight line could move? And what if that straight line intersected with other moving straight lines? Looking at the art of George Rickey, we can begin to unpack the possibilities of movement within imagery normally represented as static.

Rickey’s sculptures cover the breadth of ordered patterns and random movement, combining engineering precision and the chaos of the natural world. The artist carefully considered every aspect of his sculptures – from the timing and speed of its gyratory pieces to their position at rest when they return to balance. When the sculptures’ elements activate, they seem to carve out an invisible mass, changing volumes over time. Straight lines become something organic. As Rickey once wrote, “A plane pushed through space may describe a volume.”

“You go through these emotions – joy, suffering, happiness, sorrow – and if you happen to have a bit of metal in your hands – you just shape it.” – Harry Bertoia


Italian-born artist Harry Bertoia melded art with people’s everyday lives. His iconic “Diamond” wire chairs continue to be produced today by Knoll Associates. His landmark designs and art, such as his textured wire screens in the Dallas Public Library, remain timeless public displays that capture quintessential design features of 1950s and 1960s modernism.

However, one of his most seminal series was the Sonambient or sounding sculptures. Conceived initially as sculptures resembling desert grasses, Bertoia discovered that their movement produced a harmonious sound. Following advice from his musician brother, Bertoia experimented in constructing these sculptures with different metals, lengths of rods, or capped by cylinders.

Enraptured by their quality, Bertoia produced enough sounding sculptures to fill his barn, which became a kind of orchestral studio and laboratory from which he recorded albums and held concerts. Under Bertoia, art and sculpture evolved from silent, static objects to musical, kinetic instruments. Sonambient sculptures followed not the ordered notes of a musical score, but the entropic whims of nature. Like his “Diamond” chairs, which seem to be made more of air than wire, Bertoia’s Sonambient sculptures appear to be as much invisible sounds as metal rods.

“The urge for good design is the same as the urge to go on living.” – Harry Bertoia


George Rickey and Harry Bertoia both explored materiality in their work. Rickey often burnished his stainless-steel constructs using a random grinding pattern that modulated the reflected light in both its kinetic and static states. Bertoia, on the other hand, explored the range of available metals – bronze, copper alloys like brass and beryllium copper (his preferred metal), Monel, and Inconel – that produced visual and tonal variations.

One could trace a line from Alexander Calder to both Rickey and Bertoia in their push to create kinetic artwork dependent on natural forces to animate them. Their creations are feats of invention and artistry that honor our experience of them. Bertoia and Rickey, a generation removed from Calder, came of age during the significant aftermath of the two World Wars. This atmosphere of rebuilding motivated them to reimagine the means of expression.

Rickey’s sculptures are more related to the Constructivist and Concrete Art impulses that sprouted worldwide before and during the same time that Rickey developed his visual language. These movements are noted for their use of geometric forms and abstraction that are conceptually constructed rather than artistically expressed. Unlike these early Constructivist and Concrete artists, Rickey avoided electricity to power his works and instead allowed wind to move his sculptures. Watching the movement and ever-evolving shapes of Rickey’s sculptures, the viewer is struck by the intersection of precise engineering and organic movement to create a sense of continual renewal.

For Bertoia, adding ambient sounds changes our understanding of kinetic art. The viewer is no longer a passive participant but rather becomes subsumed by invisible sound waves. Bertoia’s exploration of sound and movement reflects his desire to create harmony and resonance. Different people have compared the sounds to different experiences; some hear monastic bells, and others hear planes. If Rickey’s sculptures carve an invisible volume, then Bertoia’s sculptures carve the air with sound.

Perhaps one of the strongest yet ephemeral ties between Rickey and Bertoia is the dependence on time within their work. The sculptures invite the viewer to take the time to experience their work, to experience the changing shapes and sounds. Nevertheless, their works ask us to be present in the moment, to connect across time with the object and their creator. And, in that moment, we ask ourselves questions about what we see, what we hear, and how we connect it to our lives and memories.

For more about Calder, visit our exhibition, Alexander Calder: Shaping a Primary Universe.

“Man is not important. Humanity is what counts, to which, I feel, I have given my contribution.” – Harry Bertoia


Despite their formal differences, works by Harry Bertoia and George Rickey share much in common. Drawing from the same historical context, they approach materiality with similar questions while expressing the individual artistic spirit of each artist. Unveiled for public display for the first time in decades, Heather James is proud to present Harry Bertoia and George Rickey in their first duo exhibition. The works represent the passion of a single collector to safeguard important pieces of American art and cultural history.

During our nearly 30 years, Heather James has showcased several private collections, each handled with the scholarly and logistical care to share with new audiences and a new generation of collectors.


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“George Rickey on Geometry, in Studio” from the George Rickey Foundation
“Two Lines Oblique Gyratory II 1989” from the George Rickey Foundation
“George Rickey Kinetic Sculpture at Naumkeag” from New England Public Media
“Harry Bertoia: Sculpting Mid-Century Modern Life” from the Nasher Sculpture Center
“Harry Bertoia” from WPSU PBS