An Homage to Alexander Archipenko

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A little personal anecdote recounting the experience I call my illuminating Alexander Archipenko moment:

Feeling a little rusty, one fall about 6 years ago, I enrolled in a life drawing class at the Mint Museum here in Charlotte, NC. In the classroom one evening, it was my instructor Rita standing behind me, who, with her keen and critical eye, pointed out how the lines of my drawings reflect a bit of the Alexander Archipenko influence. I asked, “Who?”, and she repeated the name, which I noted at the bottom of my drawing—a composite of quick sketches of our young female model.

Intrigued, as soon as I returned home, I googled the name Archipenko. Though the name hadn’t rung a bell in the classroom that evening, the images I found of his work online surely did; yes, I recalled seeing his sculptures during my days as an art student, studying art history at the High School of Music & Art…and later, while attending Cooper Union, when my weekends were often spent browsing the galleries of MOMA and the Guggenheim! Now, being re-introduced to Archipenko, after so many years, thirty-six of which have been spent living outside of New York, and far away from the city’s great museums and countless art galleries, Archipenko has gotten my attention, and this time around he’ll keep it!

            —Loretta Alexandra 

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Alexander Archipenko (Олександер Архипенко; Oleksander Arxypenko), was born in Kiev, Ukraine, formerly the Russian Empire, on May 30, 1887. In 1906, he began his art studies in Moscow, at the Kyiv Art School, and in that same year, had his first one-man-show in the Ukraine. In 1909, in his early twenties, Archipenko traveled to Paris where he attended, first, the École des Beaux-Arts, and then went on to study independently at the Musée du Louvre. Soon after, he left school to join several avant-guarde groups, more specifically, the Paris-based Cubist movement. Like the overlapping planes of the Cubist painters, Archipenko employed the same abstract approach, using solid and negative shapes, and convex and concave surfaces to create dynamic images whose elements move and change shape dramatically as the viewer moves. Besides the innovative use of an unconventional mix of materials, i.e., metal, wood, glass, wire, and paint, or creation of a mixed media piece combining bronze, granite, and turquoise, in his sculpture one sees the rhythmic movements found in the arts of Africa, a major inspiration to and influence on his cubist contemporaries.

After a brief stint teaching art in Berlin, during which time he married sculptor, Angelica Bruno-Schmitz, in 1923 Archipenko moved with his wife to New York, and opened an art school in Manhattan. In 1929, on land he had purchased in Bearsville, New York, he opened another art school. The following year, he moved and reopened his Bearsville school in Woodstock, New Jersey.

While continuing to create art in his own separate studio on the Bearsville property, where he also maintained his home—a cabin and cottage—much of his time throughout his prolific career was given to teaching, which he did in various art institutions across the United Stated including the Bauhaus in Chicago and a school he founded in Los Angeles, CA.

Describing Archipenko’s influence on early 20th century art, fellow Section d’Or group member, painter Juan Gris wrote: “Archipenko challenged the traditional understanding of sculpture. It was generally monochromatic at the time. His pieces were painted in bright colors. Instead of accepted materials such as marble, bronze or plaster, he used mundane materials such as wood, glass, metal, and wire. His creative process did not involve carving or modeling in the accepted tradition but nailing, pasting and tying together, with no attempt to hide nails, junctures or seams. His process parallels the visual experience of cubist painting.”

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Additional notes on his life and career:

Alexander Archipenko’s first solo exhibit was at the Museum Folkwang Hagen, in Germany, in 1912. That same year, in Paris, he opened his first art school.

In 1913, his work was exhibited in a group show at the Armory, in New York City.

In 1914, he exhibits five of his sculptures at the Mánes Fine Arts Association in Prague, alongside the work of Brancusi and Duchamp-Villon. This same year, he has a solo exhibit in Halle, Germany.

In 1921, he has his first solo exhibition in the Unites States at The Société Anonyme, in New York.

In 1924, he invented and patented the Archipentura, a new kinetic painting/sculpture mixed media art form.

His Archipentura work was first shown in exhibition in Oct. of 1928, at the Anderson Galleries, in New York City.

He became a Unites States citizen in 1929.

During the Nazi era, about 20 of Archipenko’s works in German museums and art galleries were confiscated and destroyed by the Nazi’s—under the direction of Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels—in their campaign to purge the nation of “degenerate art,” a move that resulted in 16,558 works by various artists being seized.

After WWII, in 1955 and ’56, Archipenko accompanied a touring exhibition of his work throughout Germany.

In 1960, his book, Archipenko: Fifty Creative Years 1908-1958, was published. Also, he married artist Frances Gray, his former art student.

Archipenko’s work has been exhibited in Kiev, Paris, London, Geneva, Zurich, Brussels, Rome, Athens, several cities in the Netherlands, and other European cities.

Archipenko died in New York on February 25, 1964.


  • Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 1 (1984)
  • Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine
  • Ukrainian Institute of America
  • The Archipenko Foundation
  • Guggenheim
  • Archives of American Art
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn, New York, 14 Oct 1928, Sun, page 62
  • New World Encyclopedia: Degenerate Art