28. ALEXANDER ARCHIPENKO
Alexander Archipenko belonged to the early twentieth century wave of Eastern European artists who moved to the West in search of freedom of expression, economic stability, and artistic success. Archipenko quickly followed in the footsteps of other Eastern, expatriate artists, taking up residence in La Ruche, Paris in 1908. There he rejected the most favoured contemporary sculptural styles, and became a member of the prestigious Section d’Or group, putting him in the company of Duchamp (1887-1968), Picasso (1881-1973), and Apollinaire (1881-1918). By 1910 Archipenko was exhibiting with the Cubists at the Salon des Indépendants, and from 1911 to 1913 his sculpture was shown at the Salon d’Automne.
Leaving Paris for Nice, following the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, he began producing sculpto-peintures (sculpture-paintings), which were significantly different from works by other sculptors of the period. Archipenko was praised by critics for reinterpreting sculpture through these works, establishing Archipenko’s international reputation as one of the most influential sculptors of the early twentieth century. So much so that when he arrived in New York in November 1923, The World reported that Archipenko was ‘considered by many persons the greatest living sculptor’.
Archipenko ‘dematerialised’ his sculpture in the round by introducing negative spaces to denote particular parts of the body. For subject matter he remained faithful to the female form, a central motif in the artist’s work. His figures of women take on the presence of real people, not in their surface naturalism, but in their essence, which he viewed as a fusion of ‘harmony, aesthetic beauty, and spirit’.2
A variety of cultural sources lie behind Archipenko’s work. He remained indebted throughout his career to the spiritual values and visual effects found in the Byzantine culture of his youth and had a strong affinity for ancient Egyptian, Gothic and primitive art. Consequently, many of Archipenko’s female figures look like fragmentary ancient statues, headless and with missing limbs and forms that evoke rather than describe.
Archipenko was at his best when endowing sculptural form with iconic presence. Whilst the search for a timeless representation of women brought the artist close to abstraction, he avoided cubist and futurist fragmentation, and stressed instead the fluidity of the forms. Archipenko gave his modern Madonna a clear and organic structure by assigning equal significance to every part of her body, treating his subject as an enduring
motif, a devotional object of some sort, shared by many cultures and civilisations.
Lying Horizontal Figure 1957 beautifully encapsulates the most influential of the artist’s innovations. Comparable to his celebrated Torso in Space 1935 (Israel Museum, Jerusalem), this graceful, fluid figure floats in space, seemingly attached to infinity.
1. Quoted from a newspaper clipping illustrated in Karsham, D., Archipenko: International Visionary, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C, 1969, p.70
2. Archipenko, A., Archipenko: Fifty Creative Yeas 1908-58, Tekhne, New York, 1960, p.35