New York

George Rhoads

Ruth Siegel Gallery

One look at George Rhoads’ audio-kinetic sculptures and you know you’re in for the sort of treat a gallery visit rarely affords. These sculptures (some are powered by electricity) feature balls clattering down steel tracks through a series of chutes, loop-the-loops, basins, drums, gongs, and woks. In his first show in 13 years, Rhoads (who had a previous life as an abstract painter) approaches high culture via Hammacher Schlemmer and F. A. O. Schwarz.

As with the most ingenious toys, these works demonstrate the ability of a closed system to operate both by chance and logic—the path of each ball is determined as much by the independent actions of pendulums as by clearly routed systems. The randomness is highlighted by the sound patterns the sculptures subsequently create. There is no predetermined rhythm here despite the mechanical appearance.

One of the works can also function as a wall relief, but they are all decidedly three-dimensional. Their whimsical quality is manifested not only in their bright coloring but in the artist’s incorporation of found objects (woks, xylophone keys, Ping-Pong balls, and ball bearings) and hand-wrought parts, which are welded into intricate curves and arabesques, fanciful zigzags and switchbacks.

The commotion of rolling balls can be distracting, but, apart from the sound and the fury, some of the sculptures are quietly beautiful; when they are not in use, they can be appreciated in purely sculptural terms. In this way, after the novelty fades—who doesn’t grow bored with a toy?—the work remains fresh, intriguing, idiosyncratic: a perfectly useless machine, as exciting for its visual energy as for its actual kinetic qualities.

Justin Spring