Refashioning the Figure: The Sketchbooks of Archipenko
25 Sep 2003 – 4 Jan 2004
Exhibition in the Upper Sculpture Study Gallery, Leeds Art Gallery
Archipenko exemplifies the many-faceted nature of the European avant-garde. This exhibition asked to what extent should we understand him as an influence, and to what extent as a mirror, reflecting a community of ideas.
Archipenko was a celebrated artist of his generation, a leitmotif to the many avant-garde movements in pre-war Europe, cited with approval by the Cubists, Futurists and Constructivists. Yet identifying Archipenko himself, and understanding his contribution, is rather harder, despite the trail of evidence he left behind.
The fluid nature of artistic experimentation is well illustrated in the sketchbooks which were exhibited in Leeds; dynamic compositions which re-fashion the figure in ways reminiscent not only of Cubism and Futurism, but also of Art Deco fashion plates, Baroque sculpture and Russian icons. This was the first time the sketchbooks have been exhibited since the early 1920s. Their pristine quality and range provide new insights into his career.
Alexander Archipenko was born in Kiev in 1887 and died in New York City in 1964. In between those dates he was a peripatetic artist, working and showing first in Paris, then in Berlin, and latterly in Chicago, Hollywood and New York. The Archipenko Foundation, established in 2000, is located in the summer school he ran near Woodstock, in up-state New York, and is devoted to maintain the legacy of his work.
The exhibition was accompanied by an essay by Dr Marek Bartelik, a Polish art-historian based in New York, which develops the reading of Archipenko (and of the avant-garde) as essentially nomadic.