Editor's note: The following essay was published February 1, 2016 in Resource Library with permission of the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens. The essay was written to accompany the exhibit Archipenko: A Modern Legacy, on view January 29 through April 17, 2016 at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact the Cummer directly through either this phone number or web address:
Archipenko: A Modern Legacy
By Holly Keris
An exhibition featuring the work of internationally-acclaimed sculptor Alexander Archipenko is coming to the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens. From January 29 through April 17, visitors will be able to see nearly 50 works by this pioneer of modern sculpture. Archipenko: A Modern Legacy, organized by International Arts & Artists, Washington, D.C., in collaboration with the Archipenko Foundation, features sculptures, mixed media reliefs, and works on paper that span the artist's European and American periods. Exhibition curator Alexandra Keiser, research curator with the Archipenko Foundation, explains, "While Archipenko scholars have focused mainly on his early years in France and his contributions to Cubism, it is only now that researchers are examining the artist's practice, and the reception he received during this later period and his place in the wider structure of avant-garde culture... Archipenko initiated a series of innovations crucial to the advancement of modern sculpture."
Travelers may recognize Archipenko's work from museums across the globe, including the Centre Pompidou, Paris; Guggenheim Museum; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington; Kunstmuseum Bern, Switzerland; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Metropolitan Museum of Art; Museum Kunst Palast Düsseldorf; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Musée d'art et d'histoire, Genève; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Phillips Collection, Washington; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Tate Gallery, London; Tel Aviv Museum of Art; and the Whitney Museum of American Art. The Cummer Museum is thrilled to bring his work to northeast Florida.
Archipenko, who was born in the Ukraine, was a leader among the European avant-garde. After attending art school in Kiev and Moscow, he moved to Paris in 1908 and was introduced to many fellow artists including George Braque, Amedeo Modigliani, and Pablo Picasso. His early works combine myriad styles, from Orthodox symbolism and folklore to African, Assyrian, Gothic, and Oceanic sculptural influences. In 1913, he exhibited at the Armory Show in New York, initiating an active schedule of international exhibitions, in cities such as Athens, Berlin, Brussels, Geneva, London, Paris, Venice, and Zurich.
Archipenko's interest in pushing the traditional boundaries of sculpture resulted in him gaining recognition as one of the pioneers of modern sculpture. "He experimented with concave and convex shapes as well as with new materials; he re-introduced polychrome into three-dimensional art; and he employed the use of negative space and movement in his attempt to dematerialize the human figure," says Keiser, but "the human figure and its abstraction remained at the core of Archipenko's artistic expression."
Between 1920 and 1923, Archipenko participated in 25 exhibitions and was the subject of four monographs. Writing in the publication Archipenko-Album in 1921, poet Yvan Goll declared, "Archipenko is of the same importance for sculpture as Picasso is for painting." He opened art schools in Berlin in 1921, then in New York in 1923. Economic conditions in Germany led to Archipenko's decision to leave. He wrote to Katherine Dreier, a promoter of modern art in America who bequeathed a portion of her personal collection to the Guggenheim, "I have decided to leave insane Europe... I can no longer work in this atmosphere... One does not know in the morning what will happen in the evening... at least [in America] one's life is guaranteed and that's a lot in our stupid times."
Although much has been written about Archipenko's European career, this exhibition offers new perspectives on his time in America and, according to Keiser, offers insight into his creative practice. "He explored lead casting, electro-plating, and polychrome patina; reÞned ceramic as a sculptural medium, Þnding complex ways of treating the surface; experimented with reþective and shiny materials, including mirrors and mother of pearl; and introduced non-traditional art materials such as Plexiglass and Bakelite," said Keiser, "all the while engaging creative tools from the past and the present to foster artistic evolution."
Many works in the exhibition reflect Archipenko's interest in the female form. Sitting or reclining figures mix with those suspended in motion. Dance as an art form was a source of inspiration for Archipenko and other modern artists. "Archipenko was familiar with Cubo-Futurist experimentation and aspects of Ausdruckstanz, which he encountered in the Ballets Russes, a spectacular and colorful synthesis of painting, music and dance, and in the innovative performances of Loïe Fuller (1862-1928) and Isadora Duncan (1877-1927)," says Keiser. "In the artistic community dance not only became a symbol of modernism and modernity, but also a paradigm for the creative investigation of body and space, dynamic movement, rhythm, and simultaneity." Works like Dance (1912/1959), Black and White Dancer (1942), and Ballerina (1957) explore movement in the female form while others like Walking Soldier (1917/1965) and Boxing (1914) explore movement in general. Other more static images, such as Torso in Space (1935) represent an abstracted synthesis of more historic artworks. The breadth of Archipenko's artistic output becomes clear through the selection of works included in the exhibition, and that breadth was a source of pride for the artist. In 1960, he wrote that his work could be measured "only by the large totality of its content and its variety of expression. My old works contain elements of the new, and the new contains elements of the old."
In addition to finished works of art, Archipenko: A Modern Legacy also contains items from the artist's archives that have not been exhibited previously, including annotated photographs, sketches, patent drawings, and early publications. As a whole, this combination of materials provides a remarkable view of Archipenko's working process throughout his career.
About the author
Holly Keris is Chief Curator, Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens
Images of selected artworks from the exhibition:
(above: Alexander Archipenko, Walking Soldier, 1917, executed c. 1954. Paint and wood. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Gift of the Archipenko Collection. © 2015 Estate of Alexander Archipenko/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.)
(above: Alexander Archipenko, Reclining Torso, 1922. Ceramic with black glaze. © 2015 Estate of Alexander Archipenko/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.)
Resource Library editor's note
The above essay was published February 1, 2016 in Resource Library with permission of the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, granted to TFAO on February 1, 2016. The essay was written to accompany the exhibit Archipenko: A Modern Legacy, on view January 29 through April 17, 2016 at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens.
Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Amber Sesnick, Marketing Manager, Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens for her help concerning publishing the essay.
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