Archipenko - Architectural Figure
Architectural Figure, 1950
Painted terra-cotta
Frances Archipenko Gray Collection

Archipenko - Cleopatra
Cleopatra, 1957
Wood, bakelite, and found objects
Frances Archipenko Gray Collection

Archipeko - Queen of Sheba
Queen of Sheba, 1961
Bronze (posthumous cast)
Frances Archipenko Gray Collection

Alexander Archipenko - Walking
Walking, 1914-15
Bronze (lifetime cast)
Private Collection


Alexander Archipenko:  Vision and Continuity
March 31—July 30, 2006

Featuring more than 60 sculptures in bronze, wood, and terracotta by Alexander Archipenko (1887–1964), this show was organized by the Ukrainian Museum in New York in collaboration with The Archipenko Foundation and will travel to the Chazen Museum of Art (formerly the Elvehjem Museum of Art) in Madison, Wisconsin, after being displayed at Smith.  Jaroslaw Leshko, recently retired from the faculty of the Smith College art department, served as exhibition curator and author of the accompanying catalogue.  Leshko will present the keynote lecture for the opening of the exhibition, as well as a number of talks here at Smith in support of this internationally significant show.

One of the most important Ukrainian visual artists, Archipenko was, during his lifetime, sometimes compared in significance to his contemporary, Pablo Picasso (who is the subject of the other “Modern Masters” show this summer).  Although Picasso is universally acknowledged as one of the towering figures in the history of modern art, Archipenko’s influence is less widely recognized.  “Archipenko’s oeuvre is a brilliant,  cohesive document of twentieth-century art,” Leshko writes in the exhibition catalogue, “intellectually rigorous, technically skilled, and visually compelling.”  Having lived in Paris during “the incomparable historical moment” from 1908-1920, Archipenko was present at the genesis of cubism, and by working with its key figures and introducing important innovations, helped shape the movement’s exploration of the relationship between volume and space.  “By 1920, Archipenko had become the most important sculptor of the era,” Leshko writes, “a position validated by an exhibition of his works at the 1920 Venice Biennale, then the highest honor accorded a living artist.”

The occasion for this show came when the Ukrainian Museum decided to feature Archipenko as its inaugural exhibition upon reopening in a new building.  “Mrs. Archipenko was instrumental in this show coming into being,” says Leshko, “as probably close to seventy percent of the show consists of work from her collection, the rest coming from other museums and private collections.  Because this exhibition was being prepared at the same time that the Ukrainian Museum’s new building was under construction, Mrs. Archipenko took a leap of faith and agreed to have a show in a museum that did not even have walls when our discussions started.  She has since called it the best Archipenko show ever, and she has seen enough of them to be in a position to comment on that.”

Coordinating this show has occupied Leshko for the past two years and will fill another year of his retirement after the show closes at Smith, as it travels to an additional venue.  “It has been a very enjoyable experience for me to speak about the show in New York and to lead many different groups of tourists through the exhibition.  The most exciting of these talks was a surprise visit from Victor Yuschenko [President of the Ukraine since leading the October 2004 ‘Orange Revolution’], whom I was able to personally guide through the exhibition for a full half-hour during his trip to New York.” 

Vision and Continuity surveys Archipenko’s full career, and Leshko’s presentation of the material assesses the significance of his later work, which never received the same critical acclaim as the earlier contributions and has less historical resonance among what he calls the “cascading ‘isms’ of twentieth-century art.”  To organize the artist’s body of work, Leshko has divided the exhibition into four thematic areas.  Form and Space  shows Archipenko’s innovations relating to sculptural volumes, including the radical notion of displacing heads or torsos in human figures, leaving voids in their place.  Several sculptures in this section typify the artist’s best-known work and introduce the concave/convex or solid/void themes to which he would frequently return throughout his career.  Content into Form shows the range of contexts and sources Archipenko accessed through his career and the richness of conceptual influences, from depictions of historical figures to spiritual and religious themes to the world of popular entertainment.  Motion and Stasis traces his contributions to the recurring modernist theme of motion, especially that of the human form.  Depictions of walking and dancing—including works that resonate strongly with Matisse’s series of dance paintings—interact with internal, contemplative forms of bodies at rest.  Construction, Materials, Colors documents the artist’s ongoing experiments with traditional materials like terracotta and wood; unusual materials like plastic, bakelite, and formica; and a form he created, known as sculpto-painting.

Photographs: Petro Hrycyk - The Ukrainian Museum, New York