Alexander Archipenko was born in Kiev on 30 May 1887. His father worked as a mechanic. From 1902 to 1906, Archipenko studied sculpture at the art academy in Kiev. In 1906 he was expelled for »rebelling against the teaching method«, and settled in Moscow as a freelance artist. In 1908 he moved to Paris, studied for a short while at the École des Beaux-Arts, which he also soon left on account of the classical teaching methods.
Gradually Archipenko grew into the circle of the Parisian avantgarde. He had contact to Picasso and Braque, whose Cubism he transferred to sculpture by geometrizing and mechanizing the human body, and leaving it with holes. The torso is a constant motif of his sculptural work. But his finely flowing contours and silhouettes were still clearly under the influence of Art Nouveau. In 1910 Archipenko participated in both the XXVI Salon des Indépendants, which was dominated by the Cubists, and the Salon d’Automne. His artistic approach seems however to have been increasingly influenced by the circle centring on Marcel Duchamp and his brother Raymond Duchamp-Villon. He reacted to Marcel Duchamp’s Nu descendant un escalier No. 2 of 1912 by producing his Femme Marchante the same year; this was the first manifestation of Sculpture-Peinture, which had been under experimental development since 1910. Archipenko later developed this in the USA into Archipentura, and even took out a patent on it (1927).
But Archipenko was also in contact with Modigliani and Léger, whose blocklike and mechanical interpretations of the human body were to have a lasting influence on him. From his base in Paris, Archipenko maintained a Europe-wide network: as early as 1912, the Folkwang Museum in Hagen was exhibiting his works, but he also exhibited in Rome along with the Futurists in 1914, and in 1918 carried on a lively correspondence with Theo van Doesburg, the founder of the group De Stijl. Archipenko set up the first art school of his own in Paris in 1912. Juan Gris described the works of this period thus: ›Archipenko changes the traditional view of sculpture, which at this time was generally monochrome. His works were painted in radiant colours. Instead of the usual materials like marble, bronze or clay, he used simple materials such as wood, glass, metal, and wire. His sculptural technique did not consist of carving or modelling in the traditional sense; he nailed, glued and assembled the materials together, without hiding the joins. His work process was a visual parallel to Cubist painting.‹
In 1913 Archipenko was represented at the legendary Armory Show in New York. During the First World War, he lived in Ciminez near Nice, where his neighbours included Modigliani, Chaime Soutine and Matisse. Between 1921 and 1923 Archipenko lived in Berlin, where he also ran an art school. Here in 1921 he married the sculptress Angelika Schmitz (1893 — 1957), who under the pseudonym Gela Forster was a member of the Dresden Secession. From Berlin, Archipenko had contact with Herwarth Waldens Sturm, the Berlin Dadaists, and the Bauhaus.
When the couple moved to the USA in 1923, Archipenko first spent most of his time teaching at various art schools in New York. In 1924, inspired by Constructivism, he developed motorized mobile painted sculptures, the Archipentura mentioned above. After a number of teaching posts in the United States, he set up his School of Creative Fine Arts in Chicago in 1937, and for a short time, through the good offices of László Moholy-Nagy, also taught at the New Bauhaus.
In 1939 Archipenko returned to New York and became one of the first artists to experiment with synthetic materials, including acrylic glass, for which he developed his own cutting technique. Like Moholy-Nagy at this time too, Archipenko also worked with light modulations and internally lit sculptures. An American citizen from 1929, after the Second World War – his works were among those derided as ›degenerate art‹ in 1937 – he intensified his personal contact with the Saarlandmuseum in Saarbrücken, which ultimately took receipt in 1967 of a bequest from him of more than 100 plaster models.
Represented by galleries in the USA and honoured with exhibitions, from 1955 was also present in retrospectives in Germany too, for example in 1960 in Hagen, Münster, Saarbrücken and Düsseldorf. The same year he published an overview of his own works Fifty Creative Years, 1908 — 1958. Also in 1960 he married his former pupil, the artist Frances Gray. Archipenko’s sculptural work was accompanied throughout his working life by drawings and lithographic series.
Alexander Archipenko died in New York on 25 February 1964. His widow Frances Gray set up ›The Archipenko Foundation‹ in 2000.
Alexander Archipenko: exhib. cat. Saarlandmuseum Saarbrücken, ed. by R. Melcher, Munich, 2008
A. Barth: Alexander Archipenkos plastisches Œuvre, Frankfurt/M. 1994