Sculptural connections

Italian artists welcomed Archipenko’s innovative work, as John Evans reports

Thursday, 14th July — By John Evans

Alexander Archipenko Boxers

Alexander Archipenko, Boxers, 1913-1914, bronze, cast 1964, 59.7 x 41.9 ­x 40.6cm Courtesy of The Archipenko Foundation. © Estate of Alexander Archipenko – ARS, NY and DACS, London 2022

KYIV-BORN Alexander Archipenko’s importance to Italian sculpture in the 20th century is the major theme of a new show.

Archipenko and the Italian Avant Garde can be seen at the Estorick Collection, whose experts say it aims “to introduce the British public to an alternative history of modernism by retracing the many moments of exchange and confrontation between Archipenko, one of the 20th century’s most influential sculptors, and leading figures from the Italian avant garde”.

Archipenko (1887-1964) trained in Kyiv and spent time in Moscow before settling in Paris in 1909, taking an active part in the development of the Cubist movement, and befriending a number of Futurists. He frequented the artists’ colony La Ruche in Montparnasse where he also met, among others, Modigliani, Léger, Apollinaire, and Gaudier-Brzeska. And he would come to exhibit regularly at the salons. He also featured in many international exhibitions including the 1913 ground-breaking Armory Show in New York

Archipenko spent the war years near Nice but by 1921 he had opened an art school in Berlin, while keeping his studio in Paris.

In 1923 he moved to the USA and wrote: “America is the only country not jaded and rent by war. It is the land where the great art of the future will be produced. America fires my imagination more than any other country and embodies more of that flexibility, that yeastiness, which means life and vitality and movement.” He gained citizenship in 1929.

Alexander Archipenko, Seated Figure, 1913/1954, bronze, cast 1970, 46 x 19.1 x 13.7cm. © Estate of Alexander Archipenko – ARS, NY and DACS, London 2022

At the Estorick Archipenko’s works, including drawings and paintings, can be seen with other works by Carlo Carrà, Enrico Prampolini, Mino Rosso, Gino Severini, Mario Sironi, Thayaht, Ardengo Soffici, and more.

Estorick director Roberta Cremoncini notes in the show catalogue: “The influence of Futurism on Archipenko’s work is undeniable, but so too is the reciprocal influence of his own work on Italian artists – particularly those who were working in the climate of the inter-war ‘return to order’, who were keen avoid the trappings of a ‘new’ traditionalism without lapsing into an outmoded fragmentation of form…”

Dr Cremoncini adds the sculptor’s “fluid, biomorphic forms represented something of a solution to this conundrum”.

The exhibition highlights some the relationships ”from striking Futurist correlations to more subtle echoes discernible in the work of artists such as Amedeo Modigliani,” she says.

Early sculptures would both break a figure down but also suggest a feeling of rhythmic movement. This caught the eye of Futurist Umberto Boccioni, for example, who referred to Archipenko repeatedly in his writings on sculpture.

His “sculpto-painting” and the echoes of his work in the famous mannequins that feature in the metaphysical painting of Giorgio de Chirico and Carrà are examined.

Show curator Maria Elena Versari, from Carnegie Mellon University, includes a 1960 quote by Archipenko in her catalogue notes. He wrote: “I find my name used by groups to which I never belonged, for instance Dadaists and Futurists. In reality, I am alone and independent”.

But she looks at his development in terms of the sculptors’ debates from “casting aside the shadows of both Rodin and Pompeii”, moving through Cubism, to investigation of negative space in sculptural form and more.

“Archipenko offered, throughout his career, a catalogue of disparate ways to visualise the human body that were all equally ground-breaking”, she says.

Archipenko and the Italian Avant Garde can be seen at the Estorick Collection of Italian Modern Art, 39a Canonbury Square, N1 2AN until September 4.

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