Alexander Archipenko

John Florens | Dec 12, 2022

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Oleksandr Porfyrovytch Arkhypenko (Ukrainian: Олекса́ндр Порфи́рович Архи́пенко), known as Alexander Archipenko, who was born in Kiev on May 30, 1887, and died in New York City on February 25, 1964, was a naturalized Ukrainian-American sculptor.

The son of an engineer, Alexander Archipenko also took mathematics courses (he would remain fascinated by the relationship between art and science), but he quickly turned to the study of painting and sculpture in Kiev and Moscow from 1902 to 1906. During this period, he developed a particular interest in the frescoes, mosaics and Byzantine icons of Kiev. After a stay in Moscow, he moved to Paris in 1908. There he came into contact with the avant-garde currents, in particular the Cubist group. He settled in La Ruche (2, passage de Dantzig), a former wine pavilion from the 1889 Universal Exhibition converted into an artistic studio. He worked alone, preferring to go to the Louvre Museum to study archaic Greek sculpture rather than go to the Beaux-Arts whose academic teaching he despised (a reproach that the artist had already addressed to his professors at the Kiev School of Art, who eventually expelled him). Influenced by Rodin until his works presented in Moscow in 1906, he asserts himself from his Parisian works at the age of 24 as one of the leaders of avant-garde sculpture.

In 1910, he exhibited at the Salon des indépendants in Paris. On Friday, April 21, 1911 at the XXVIIth Salon des indépendants, his works, along with those of Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger, Robert Delaunay, Henri Le Fauconnier, André Lhote and Joseph Csaky, were the subject of incendiary criticism reminiscent of that provoked by the Fauve exhibition. Considered as "master-cubes", these artists even disconcerted Guillaume Apollinaire. They were accused of deviating from cubism, of caricaturing it and even of being anti-academic. The absence of Picasso and Braque (who exhibited exclusively with the gallery of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler) at this exhibition is regretted.

Archipenko's first solo exhibition took place at the Folkwang Museum in Hagen (Germany) in 1912. That same year, he opened an art school in Paris and joined the Golden Section group. He also produced his first relief paintings, the "sculpto-paintings". In October 1912, at the La Boétie gallery in Paris, the first Salon de la Section d'Or was organized, where Archipenko's works were exhibited alongside those of Fernand Léger, Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger, Juan Gris, Marcel Duchamp, Raymond Duchamp-Villon, Jacques Villon, André Lhote, Roger de La Fresnaye and Louis Marcoussis. In all, 31 artists with 200 works are present. Despite the notable absence of Picasso, this exhibition has a didactic character: Cubism entered a theoretical phase four years after its birth. The Salon de la Section d'Or triggered harsh criticism against these revolutionary works: Apollinaire nevertheless defended it in his columns for L'Intransigeant and in prefaces to catalogs.

In 1913, four of Archipenko's works were shown at the Armory Show in New York. At this time he also made his first engravings, which were reproduced in the Italian futurist publication Lacerba in 1914. That same year, he participated in the XXX Salon of Independents, before exhibiting at the Venice Biennale in 1920. During the First World War, the artist lived in Cimiez, near Nice. There he met the artist Marthe Donas, who became his companion. There followed an intense collaboration between the two artists. From 1919 to 1921, he traveled to Geneva, Zurich, Paris, London, Brussels, Athens and other European cities to exhibit his work. His first solo exhibition in the United States took place in 1921 in New York at the Société Anonyme. In 1923 he left Berlin for the United States, where he opened several art schools over the years in New York, Woodstock, Los Angeles and Chicago. For the next three years he taught in the United States at art schools and universities, including the short-lived New Bauhaus. He became a naturalized American citizen in 1928.

In 1933, he exhibited in the Ukrainian Pavilion at the Century of Progress World's Fair in Chicago. From 1937 to 1939, he was an associate instructor at the New Bauhaus School of Industrial Arts in Chicago. At the same time, most of the artist's works in German museums were confiscated by the Nazis with the intention of purging degenerate art. In 1947, he created sculptures illuminated from within. He later accompanied a touring exhibition of his work throughout Germany in 1955 and 1956. He also wrote a book, Archipenko: 50 Years of Creation (1908-1958), published in 1960, bringing together contributions from fifty art historians with texts by Archipenko on art creation. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1962.

For Archipenko, "it is difficult to classify the work of an artist into periods. He adds:

"I never belonged to schools: I was expelled from schools. I researched, invented and experimented, then I was imitated... For every artist, art is an ascending creative current towards the individual discovery of truth in the forms of nature and periods are only boxes in the minds of critics."

According to Archipenko, the main problem raised by the sculpture is that of the volume and the connection of the masses between them. In this he is even more extreme than modern sculptors such as Brancusi or Duchamp-Villon, members like him of the Golden Section group. His main issue is that of the void, which holds the force of the absent object and creates volume. The simplification, the hollowing out of volumes while maintaining the figurative aspect are the principles of his sculpture. His art characterized by a great mathematical rigor leaves a dominating place to the female body. He likes to recall the omnipresence of the stone idols of the ancient Slavs in his childhood.

Picasso had elaborated the first rules of this sculptural grammar: polychromy, integration of the most diverse materials, rhythmic use of planes, appearances of open-worked forms. Like painting, cubist sculpture is mainly concerned with the relationship between objects and space, volumes and voids that separate them or into which they are inserted. The influence of Italian Futurism, especially through Boccioni, whom Archipenko met in 1912, is felt in the dynamic forms of his works. Archipenko especially explored the dialectic of concave and convex forms.

He developed a personal style with stereometrically simplified body masses, figures erected in space, beveled forms, sharp angles, crystalline fractures from the formal inventory of Cubism and is also inspired by mannerism.

Apart from Boccioni, no other sculptor has made the analysis of space, the central problem of the decade, into an absolute, nor has he pushed the interaction between volume and emptiness in such a personal way into expressive and lyrical, dynamic and statuesque areas. He succeeded in uniting formal rigor and playful appeal, and unified in one form the four elusive ones: space, transparency, light and reflection, thus creating a modern sculptural style playing with concave forms.

Torso (1909) is his first sculpture with cubist tendency. It implements a disarticulation of volumes, which he pierces to make space penetrate.

At that time, he knew nothing of Cubism and was inspired by the folded sculptures of Barlach or Kollwitz (Woman and Cat in 1910 or Woman with Cat in 1911). In 1911-12, they unfold, and one senses the Cubist influence in the swollen thighs and arms or, on the contrary, a tendency to lean forms (Woman walking in 1912). From 1911, he actively participated in the Cubist movement. The plastic problems that his sculpture approaches are resolutely new: full volumes, relationships between empty and full, hollow volumes. He wanted to symbolize the "absent reality". With Femme marchant in 1912, he experimented for the first time with a head in negative. In 1912, he identified his favorite theme: interpenetration of the body and space, development of concave and convex curves so that the sculptural form becomes somehow perceptible through its matrix. He develops his own theory of complementary forms: every void generates its imaginary antithesis.

With the series of Medrano, made in 1912, he creates a first assembly of various painted materials (glass, wood and metal): they are articulated dolls resembling wooden harlequins using glass, a metal sheet of wire, cones cylinders and discs energized by a polychrome paint. In constant artistic research, he develops new methods of creation and creates an interaction between painting and sculpture. With this liberation of form, Archipenko broke with traditional sculpture and established himself as one of the masters of the avant-garde. He revived a genre neglected since the 17th century by Western sculpture, polychromy.

His "sculpto-paintings" created in 1912 are painted plaster reliefs. Between painting and sculpture, he studied the reciprocal relationship between form and color, one accentuating or diminishing the other. These two arts are unified or contrasted visually and spiritually, depending on the goal.

From 1913 to 1916, form predominated over reality. The Dance (1912) is articulated around an ascending interior space imbued with lightness thanks to the arabesque formed by a couple. He organizes this sculpture around the void. In carrying out this work on the void and the full, he is careful not to finish the bodies whose members he stops when the plastic commands it. He thus introduces the void as a full part, as in Woman in 1915, whose head is drawn around a gap.

In 1913, he created a wire sculpture that Apollinaire described as "an umbrella whale". Later, his treatment of Cubism would move toward Constructivism.

With La Boxe in 1913, the artist attempted to translate the brutal energy of sport into abstract forms. The boxers are reduced to sharp shapes interlocking with each other and violently clashing, the muscles being replaced by rhythmic energy.

Tête constructiviste (1913) is made of an assemblage of planes. The Gondolier (1914) is composed in slightly shifted sections in order to give, in the spirit of futurism, a sense of movement. With Still Life (1915), Archipenko also delivers one of his rare paintings in relief.

Upon his arrival in the United States in the early 1920s, he embraced the tradition: smooth prevails, perfect and relaxed. With Woman (1920), he immediately resumed sculpture with a tall metal figure on a painted panel. He then moved closer to traditional sculpture.

From 1924 to 1928, he developed "archipeinture," based on canvases set in motion by cleverly concealed motors: an electric mechanism at the base of the apparatus imparts a back-and-forth movement to the central frame, and thousands of painted fragments that follow one another appear on the surface to constitute a complete painting. This invention was implemented in New York. His research has always been the visual animation of his works, either by perforating them in the mass so that the space penetrates them, or by using materials such as glass, wood or metal - even, for his sculpto-paintings, by adding color.

En Famille (1935) is a work both concentrated and influenced by constructivism.

In the two dimensions, also slip an exceptional work as this female figure in gouache, whose alternating brown and white masses create the relief of the body (Moonlight in 1937).

In the 1940s and 1950s, he continued his artistic explorations using new materials and techniques. Thus, for Figure assise, he uses cut and lit plastic. He resumed his initial forms, most of which had disappeared, in gigantic formats (Figures of Steel in 1951, Cleopatra in 1957). In the 1950s, he realized that he had made a mistake in his orientation, and he set out to pastiche his beginnings or to reconstitute them, since many of his works did not survive the First World War.

From the end of the 1950s, he returned to his cubo-constructivist style, with very geometric figures, preserving significant voids and most often symmetrical (Kimono in 1961 or King Solomon in 1963).


  1. Alexander Archipenko
  2. Alexandre Archipenko
  3. En russe : Алекса́ндр Порфи́рьевич Архи́пенко ; en anglais : Alexander Archipenko.
  4. ^ "Alexander Archipenko". Retrieved 27 July 2022.
  5. ^ Donald H. Karshan, Archipenko, Content and Continuity 1908–1963, Kovlan Gallery, Chicago, 1968. p. 40.
  7. a b Integrált katalógustár (német és angol nyelven). (Hozzáférés: 2014. április 26.)

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