Alexander Archipenko
Biography of Russian Cubist Sculptor.

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Walking Woman (1912)
Denver Museum of Art.
A masterpiece of abstract sculpture.

Alexander Archipenko (1887-1964)


Arts Training
Post-War Years
Emigrates to America
Last Years

The Boxing Match (1914)
Guggenheim Museum, New York.

Basso, Alto, Relievo works,
see: Relief Sculpture.
For freestanding works,
see: Statue.


A member of the school of Russian sculpture, and regarded today as one of the greatest sculptors of the Cubism movement, the Ukrainian-born artist Alexander Archipenko is noted for his innovative sculpture in which "negative space" is used to create a new way of looking at the human figure, by showing several views of the subject simultaneously. This development of negative space, along with his use of everyday materials, represents his greatest contribution to the history of sculpture. After moving to Paris in 1908, and two years in Berlin (1921-3) he emigrated to America in 1923, where he continued to launch new forms of modern art, including Archipentura (a type of kinetic painting), and his plastic 'light' sculptures, lit from inside. These new types of avant-garde art confirmed his reputation as one of the most imaginative 20th century sculptors, and he is now seen as a seminal figure in plastic art of the modern era. A master of bronze sculpture, as well as mixed-media and wood-carving, his best known masterpieces include the sculptures Walking Woman (1912, Denver Museum of Art), The Boxing Match (1914, Guggenheim Museum, New York) and Standing Nude (1921, Private Collection); and the Cubist painting Glass on a Table (1920, MOMA, New York). Archipenko was also an influential teacher, with art schools in Paris, Berlin and America.

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Louise Nevelson (1899-1988)
Russian-born Assemblage artist.

Arts Training

Born Alexander Porfyrovych Archipenko in Kiev, Ukraine, to parents Porfiry Antonovich Archipenko and Poroskovia Vassilievna Machowa Archipenko, he attended the Kiev Art School (KKHU) from 1902 to 1905, where he studied painting and drawing as well as sculpture. As Kiev had been a centre of Byzantine art, he was able to study the icon painting of the Kiev School, as well as the medieval mosaic art of the region. He spent a further year in Kiev, studying under Serge Svyatoslavsky, during which he had a joint exhibition with Alexander Bogomazov, after which he moved to Moscow where the thriving avant-garde community offered him more opportunity to exhibit his works to a wider audience.


In 1908, disappointed with Moscow, Archipenko moved to Paris, where he briefly attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and lived in the artist's colony of La Ruche, along with other emigrant Russian artists like Vladimir Baranoff-Rossine, Sonia Delaunay-Terk, and Nathan Altman. Disliking the traditional academic art of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, he left after two weeks to study sculpture by himself at the Louvre: his favourite types were Egyptian, Assyrian, Greek and Gothic sculpture. In 1910, he started showing his sculpture at the Salon des Independants and in 1911 at the Salon d'Automne, alongside Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935), Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Georges Braque (1883-1963). In 1912, he had his first one-man show, at the Museum Folkwang Hagen, in Germany, after which he opened his first art school in Paris. Also in 1912 he became a member of Section d'Or (1912-14), a group of modern artists associated with the Cubist idiom. Other members included Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), Fernand Leger (1881-1955), Raymond Duchamp-Villon (1876-1918), Albert Gleizes (1881-1953), Jean Metzinger (1883-1956), Juan Gris (1887-1927), Francis Picabia (1879-1953) and others.

In the same year he started making his painted reliefs, the Sculpto-Peintures. In addition, he also began exploring the concept of "negative space", by hollowing out his sculptures, creating concave spaces within his figures, which gives the eye a number of simultaneous views of the subject. Exemplified by his masterpiece Walking Woman (1912, Denver Museum of Art), this represented a significant challenge to the traditional understanding of sculpture. On top of this, like Picasso and Duchamp, Archipenko started experimenting with sculptural junk art, selecting commonplace materials in his works. All this brought him widespread acclaim and his reputation spread swiftly throughout Europe.

In 1913, Archipenko exhibited his sculptures and drawings at the famous Armory Show in New York, and produced his first set of fine art prints, which were published the following year in the Italian Futurist magazine Lacerba. He participated in the Salon des Independants in 1914, before leaving Paris for Nice on the Cote d'Azur, where he remained until after the First World War.



Post-War Years

The post-war years proved to be another fertile period for Archipenko. Beginning in early 1919, he travelled throughout the Continent exhibiting his new work in cities such as Geneva, Zurich, Paris, Brussels, London and Athens. In 1920, he showed at the Twelfth Biennale in Venice, and in 1921 he was given his first one-man exhibition in America, by the Societe Anonyme, New York. In the same year he moved to Berlin (where his reputation was the highest) and opened his second art school. In 1922, he participated - along with Aleksandra Ekster (1882-1949), Kasimir Malevich, Solomon Nikritin (1898–1965), El Lissitzky (1890-1941) and others - in the First Exhibition of Russian Art in the Gallery van Diemen in Berlin.

Emigrates to America

In 1923, Archipenko emigrated to the United States. Almost immediately he produced a new series of moveable paintings, including Peinture Changeante and Archipentura, seen as forerunners of kinetic art. Over the next 30 years, he became an American citizen (1928) and taught at art schools and universities throughout America, including the New Bauhaus. In addition, he opened art colleges in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and elsewhere. He also exhibited his abstract art in venues around the world, especially in New York, where he participated in the major group show entitled Cubism and Abstract Art (1936).

Meanwhile, back in Berlin, in 1937, the Nazi Culture Ministry banned his sculpture as part of its crackdown on what it termed Degenerate Art (entartete kunst), seizing his museum exhibits in the process.

Last Years

In 1947, Archipenko created the first of the first of his 'light' sculptures, lit from inside. In addition, he continued to experiment with new materials including clear acrylic, aluminium and clay. In 1955-56, he toured Germany in person with an exhibition of his work, and shortly afterwards began writing his autobiography Archipenko: Fifty Creative Years 1908–1958, which was published in 1960. By now, one of the world's great abstract sculptors, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1962, two years before he died. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.


Works by Alexander Archipenko are represented in many of the world's best art museums and sculpture gardens, of which the following is a small selection.

United States

- Art Institute of Chicago
- Brigham Young University Museum of Art (Utah)
- Denver Art Museum
- Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
- Guggenheim Museum (New York City)
- Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (Washington DC)
- Indiana University Art Museum
- Los Angeles County Museum of Art
- Milwaukee Art Museum,
- Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
- Museum of Modern Art (New York City)
- Nasher Sculpture Center (Dallas, Texas)
- National Gallery of Art (Washington DC)
- North Carolina Museum of Art
- Norton Simon Museum (Pasadena, California)
- Phillips Collection (Washington DC)
- San Diego Museum of Art (California)
- Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery (Lincoln, Nebraska)
- Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington DC)
- Walker Art Center (Minnesota)
- Cleveland Cultural Gardens (Ukrainian Garden)

Rest of the World

- Hermitage Museum (St Petersburg)
- Peggy Guggenheim Collection (Venice)
- Stadel Museum (Frankfurt)
- Tate Gallery (London)

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