Los Angeles

Alexander Archipenko

U.C.L.A. Art Galleries

“Alexander Archipenko: A Memorial Exhibition” is commencing its two-year American tour at U.C.L.A. The 118 sculptures, drawings, lithographs and “sculpto-paintings,” all from the collection of Mrs. Archipenko, provide a broad retrospective view of this remarkable Cubist sculptor’s output from 1908 until his death in 1964. One feels, in fact, that it is a virtually complete view. His four or five principal related directions are each represented with numerous examples. There is less a sense of fecundity, or of unconsummated experimental ideas than of finished, superbly facile quality in spite of what one knows about him as an historical innovator.

If the exhibition as a whole is strongly recollective of such artists as Picasso, Braque, Boccioni, Pevsner, Brancusi and Henry Moore, it is not necessarily because Archipenko derived his ideas from these artists. Often the reverse is true. (For example, the aluminum Ray, conceived in 1918, is somewhat similar to Brancusi’s Bird in Flight which follows it chronologically.) Archipenko is generally credited with having initiated the use of concavities in sculpture where one would expect saliences, and even with having been the first to make full sculptural use of interchangeable positive and negative form. These two factors are present in nearly every piece, whether the early figural bronzes or the sculpto-paintings of the fifties.

Many of the artist’s most important works are included, such as the bronze Boxers of 1914 (clearly one of his great achievements) and the famous Woman Combing Her Hair of 1915. From among the later colored sculpto-paintings, Oval Figure and Cleopatra, both from 1957, are two of the most extraordinary. Archipenko’s development seems to have been almost unbelievably logical and coherent. At the end of his life, he was concerned with essentially the same sculptural ideas—negative and positive space, curvilinear form—which are present in his earliest works. Despite the fact that he did not undergo any radical shifts of approach during his productive lifetime, there are certain distinct groups of works. The differences among them, however, lie more in the variety of media than in underlying formal or thematic departures. One significant exception to this is the Queen of Sheba of 1961. The female figure, which appears again and again throughout his career, is here presented in a new, more open way. This piece is of bronze, standing 6'5'' high, with great arcing forms, space-embracing concave planes, a tilted circular disc in the center and a sweeping rhythmic movement throughout.

Some of the most satisfying works in the exhibition are a group of ten black and white lithographs, produced in 1963, entitled Les formes vivantes. Two of these, La Danse Noire and Les Rendez-vous des quatre formes are especially noteworthy. The artist’s incredible facility is particularly striking here in his brilliant handling of techniques singular to lithography, though the forms are distinctly sculptural.

Archipenko’s work constantly recalls other historical movements. It suggests, for example, a way of seeing Cubism as the forerunner of Constructivism. Archipenko’s influence on modern sculpture has been compared to Picasso’s on modern painting. Certainly this retrospective bears testimony to his ascendant importance for pre-World War II sculpture. It also serves as a reminder of how complete is the present day sculptor’s rejection of Cubist principles.

––Jane Livingston