Alexander Archipenko. Figure in Movement. 1913. Cut-and-pasted painted paper, conté crayon, and colored pencil on colored paper, 18 7/8 x 12 3/8" (47.9 x 31.4 cm). Gift of Perls Galleries

“[S]culpture may begin where space is encircled by the material.”

Alexander Archipenko

“I feel sorry for those who can’t feel the beauty and elegance of this gondolier,” the poet Guillaume Apollinaire wrote about Alexander Archipenko’s spare sculpture, a geometric figurine that was radical enough to be described as “*un scandale*” when it was exhibited in Paris in 1914.1 That exhibition, and the group of artists in it, would become associated with Cubism, a new way of looking through many views simultaneously and representing figures through simplified geometric planes. Archipenko arrived in Paris at the height of this controversial new movement, to which he contributed inventive sculptures made with experimental materials. Though always devoted to sculpture, Archipenko played with the boundaries of mediums throughout his career, devising dimensional painted reliefs, such as Glass on a Table (1920), that he called “sculpto-paintings.”

Archipenko was born in Kyiv, at the time part of the Russian Empire, in 1887. There he studied painting and sculpture, before moving to Moscow to begin exhibiting his work. When he moved to Paris, in 1908, he found a like-minded community of French artists, such as Fernand Léger, and Ukrainian expats, including Vladimir Baranoff-Rossiné and Sonia Delaunay-Terk, at the artists’ colony La Ruche. Instead of formal instruction at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, he preferred to wander the Louvre, where he was drawn to Egyptian, Assyrian, archaic Greek, and early Gothic sculptures. The simplified and geometric forms of non-European visual traditions appealed to Archipenko’s milieu in Paris, where colonial collections, particularly from Africa and Oceania, were accessible to the public.2 The blocky, faceless plaster figures in Madonna of the Rocks (1912) may reflect those sources as much as they do the dynamic movement and multiple perspectives championed by Cubism. Rather than bronze or marble, the sculpture is made from painted plaster, with a small hole that hints at his innovative play with mass and voids—which would gain full expression three years later in Woman Combing Her Hair.

In 1913, Archipenko sent four plaster sculptures and five drawings to the Armory Show in New York.3 The exhibition was a major scandal, with Archipenko’s sculpture La Vie Familiale, along with Marcel Duchamp’s Cubist painting Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, ridiculed in the press. The new art shown at the Armory Show was pivotal to the founding of The Museum of Modern Art, and its first director, Alfred H. Barr, invited Archipenko to participate in his landmark 1936 exhibition Cubism and Abstract Art. The artist sent several terra-cotta sculptures, which he had recreated from memory but backdated to the 1910s, a practice Archipenko continued throughout his career but which didn’t sit well with Barr, who refused to give Archipenko a solo exhibition at MoMA.

Archipenko’s painted sculptures, sometimes in unusually vibrant colors, and his three-dimensional “sculpto-paintings” all pose the question, What exactly is a sculpture? It was a question Archipenko explored in many forms throughout his career, including in his book Archipenko: Fifty Creative Years, 1908–1958, in which he wrote, “Traditionally there was a belief that sculpture begins where material touches space. Thus space was understood as a kind of frame around the mass…. Ignoring this tradition, I experimented, using the reverse idea, and concluded that sculpture may begin where space is encircled by the material.”4

Julia Detchon, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Drawings and Prints, 2022

  1. “Je plains beaucoup ceux qui ne seraient point sensibles au charme et a l'élegance de ce gondolier.” Guillaume Apollinaire, Chroniques d’art (1902–1918), ed. L.-C. Breunig (Paris: Gallimard, 1960): 168, 349. In 1910, he began exhibiting at the Salon des Indépendants, and the following year showed for the first time at the Salon d’Automne. In 1912, he joined the Section d’Or group and produced his first “sculpto-paintings.”

  2. Such works were accessible, for example, at the Palais du Trocadéro, and were privately collected, famously, by Picasso.

  3. The Armory Show checklist is available at All of Archipenko’s drawings were purchased by Alfred Stieglitz.

  4. Alexander Archipenko, Archipenko: Fifty Creative Years, 1908–1958 (New York: Tekhne, 1960), 35.

Wikipedia entry
Alexander Porfyrovych Archipenko (also referred to as Olexandr, Oleksandr, or Aleksandr; Ukrainian: Олександр Порфирович Архипенко, romanized: Oleksandr Porfyrovych Arkhypenko; May 30 [O.S. May 18] 1887 – February 25, 1964) was a Ukrainian-American avant-garde artist, sculptor, and graphic artist, active in France and the United States. He was one of the first to apply the principles of Cubism to architecture, analyzing human figure into geometrical forms.
Information from Wikipedia, made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License
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American, Russian, Ukrainian
Artist, Manufacturer, Designer, Collagist, Painter, Lecturer, Pastelist, Pastellist, Photographer, Sculptor
Alexander Archipenko, Aleksandr Archipenko, Aleksandr Arkhīpenko, Oleksander Porfyrovych Arkhypenko, Aleksandr Porfirevic Archipenko, Alexandre Archipenko, Aleksandr Porfirevich Arkhipenko, Archipenko
Information from Getty’s Union List of Artist Names ® (ULAN), made available under the ODC Attribution License


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