Alexander Archipenko Biography

Alexander Archipenko




Alexander Archipenko, sculptor and printmaker, was born on 30 May 1887 in Kiev, Russia. He studied at the Kiev Art School from 1902 to 1905, when he was expelled for criticizing the academic attitudes of his teachers. In 1906 he moved to Moscow and, in 1908, to Paris where he ended his studies the Ecole des Beaux-Arts after two weeks, again showing his impatience of discipline. Instead, he studied ancient and medieval sculpture in the Musée du Louvre, and some of the work of his early years in Paris (mainly female figures) is in a primitivistic manner recalling Egyptian art.

In about 1910, Archipenko was introduced to Cubism by Fernand Léger and he became one of the outstanding sculptors of the movement. In works such as the 1912 bronze Walking Woman (Denver Art Museum) he analyzed the human figure into geometrical forms and opened it up with concavities and a central hole to create a contrast of solid and void, thus ushering in a new sculptural idiom. George Heard Hamilton wrote that 'This is the first instance in modern sculpture of the use of a hole to signify more than a void, in fact the opposite of a void, because by recalling the original volume the hole acquires a shape and structure of its own.' In the same year, with Médrano I (destroyed), Archipenko began making sculptures that were assembled from pieces of commonplace materials, paralleling the work of Picasso; Médrano II from 1913 (Guggenheim Museum, New York) is made of painted tin and oilcloth, wood, and glass. Médrano was the name of a circus in Paris much frequented by artists; these two figures represented performers there.

Archipenko quickly built his reputation in France and in Germany. In 1912 he had a one-man exhibition at the Folkwang Museum in Hagen and in 1913 one at the Sturm Gallery in Berlin. His work was included in the 1913  Armory Show in New York. His rise to international prominence was interrupted by the First World War, during which he lived in Cimiez, a suburb of Nice; his work of this period included a number of sculpto-paintings, a type of work he created in which forms project from and develop a painted background. After the war he soon re-launched his career, organizing an exhibition of his work that toured Athens, Brussels, Geneva, London, Munich, among several other European cities. He also exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1920, on which occasion his work was condemned by a Venetian cardinal. The Société Anonyme in New York gave Archipenko his first one-man show in the United States in 1921. At this period he was undoubtedly the best known and most influential of all Cubist sculptors.

Archipenko lived in Berlin where he ran an art school between 1921 and 1923. He immigrated to the United States in 1923 and became a United States citizen in 1928. He lived, worked, and taught in various places, but chiefly in New York, where he directed his own school of sculpture from 1939 until his death. In 1924, he created his first kinetic work Archipentura.

Most of Archipenko's work in German museums was termed degenerate and confiscated by the Nazis. After the Second World War he experimented with 'light' sculptures, making structures of plastic lit from within. He toured with an exhibition of his work throughout Germany between 1955 and 1956.

Alexander Archipenko died on 25 February 1964 in New York.