Artist: Alexander Archipenko (1887 – 1964)
Title: The Archipenko Sculpture Catalogue Raisonné
Publisher: The Archipenko Foundation
Publication Date: November, 2018
Availability: Free with registration at archipenko.org
Scope: Sculpture, 1906–1963 (including posthumous casts authorized by the estate of the artist, as several bronze editions were incomplete at the time of the artist’s death)
Objects: 1,800 entries for individual works in different versions, sizes, and media, based on 440 sculpture series
Object Fields: Work number, CR number, Title, Year, Media, Dimensions (cm and in.), Cast Number, Inscription, Collection, Foundry, Casting Year, Exhibitions, Publications, Provenance, Editions, Comments, Updated (notes on revisions)
Supporting Documentation: Comprehensive exhibition history and bibliography. Links to works in museum collections and current exhibitions, as well as the illustrated chronology featured on the Archipenko Foundation website.
People-Hours of Research: 20,000 (conservative estimate, from 2002 to release)
Organized and Supported by: The Archipenko Foundation
Key Staff: Frances Archipenko Gray (editor), Dr. Alexandra Keiser (co-editor), Christopher Hyde (images), Jesse Feiler (FileMaker), Andy Haug (design)
Interview with Alexandra Keiser, Ph.D., Research Curator, The Archipenko Foundation
From what sources does the Archipenko catalogue raisonné draw? What is the roadmap for future releases?
The history of The Alexander Archipenko Catalogue Raisonné project goes back directly to the artist. Archipenko was the first to publish a cataloguing scheme of his work in 1960 with his book Fifty Creative Years.
Upon the artist’s death in 1964, his widow, Frances Archipenko Gray, recorded the artworks she inherited and preserved the artist’s archive, which included catalogues, photos, and articles. On her initiative, the Archipenko Foundation was chartered in 2000, with the priority of completing a comprehensive catalogue of all Archipenko’s art, from all periods, with an initial focus on sculptures and the different sculpture editions.
Many years of research and documentation have supported the Foundation’s current efforts, with two publications being especially valuable to our project. The first is Katherine Michaelsen’s 1977 doctoral dissertation, which includes a catalogue of the early works (created prior to and including 1920). The second is Anette Barth’s 1986 doctoral dissertation, which includes a catalogue of Archipenko’s sculptures from 1907 to 1963. The current catalogue raisonné updates and expands on these publications, in particular by making entries for the individual works in a sculpture edition and that edition’s versions rather than only listing the original sculpture.
Today, The Alexander Archipenko Catalogue Raisonné project is well underway, with continuing guidance from Frances Archipenko Gray as I oversee our research efforts. With my appointment in 2002, the Foundation embarked on extensive international research and the systematic recording of artworks held in private and public collections. A wealth of historical documents and photographs from a variety of archival and institutional sources was accessed, processed, and incorporated into the cataloguing, including provenance, exhibition, literature, and auction sales references.
The 2018 online release is part of an ongoing project dedicated to documenting the complete oeuvre of Alexander Archipenko. Although this first release focuses solely on the sculptures, we plan to catalogue works on paper and paintings as well. When completed, The Alexander Archipenko Catalogue Raisonné will give access to up-to-date information on Archipenko’s entire body of work.
What exposure did you have to the artist’s oeuvre prior to your appointment? Are there moments when you have felt a deepening engagement with this work?
Coincidentally, I grew up not far from the Saarlandmuseum in Saarbrücken, Germany. The museum has an extraordinary Archipenko collection, which includes the original plasters. Many school trips took me there, introducing the artist. However, at the beginning of my professional life, I did not set out with a focus on Archipenko. Generally interested in sculpture though, I wrote my master’s thesis on Dan Flavin and came to New York for an internship at the Guggenheim Museum. Then, I worked with contemporary artists. It was a bit later that I saw the position at the Archipenko Foundation and it seemed like a serendipitous match.
There were (and still are) many moments of deep engagement with the work. A few occasions stand out, including when I had the chance to inventory the Archipenko Collection and could carefully observe his mastery of material, color, and form up-close. Perusing archival documents, I also became deeply immersed in questions that addressed Archipenko's experience of networking, multiple emigrations, and success and failures in the art world. Eventually, I incorporated this research in my doctoral dissertation at the Courtauld. And, more recently, I had another hands-on opportunity, when curating the traveling retrospective “Archipenko: A Modern Legacy.” I loved developing the exhibition concept, seeing the artworks installed in public, and engaging with a larger audience about Archipenko’s artistic practice.
How important is it for Archipenko to be understood within the context of Eastern Europe?
Archipenko himself traces the origins of his visual language back to his childhood in Kiev. Several scholars have added to this narrative, by linking elements of his use of color, material, form, and abstraction to Eastern European architecture, sculpture, and icons. It is important to note, however, that this reference to Eastern Europe was one element of many that formed his practice. He did not consider himself a nationalist artist, but rather a cosmopolitan and international.
What effect has Archipenko’s internationalism—moving from Kiev to Moscow, Paris, Berlin, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles—had on the research process for the catalogue raisonné?
The process was complex as we needed to conduct research in diverse cultural contexts and in several languages, mainly English, French, and German, but also Ukrainian and Russian. We were able to establish a worldwide network with collectors and institutions (including museums, libraries, archives, and auction houses) and they generously shared relevant information.
Since Archipenko also established art schools in many of the cities where he lived, how important has research into those schools and the artist’s pedagogy been for the catalogue raisonné?
We only have begun a more comprehensive research into the pedagogy and the schools. Archipenko taught at many schools and universities as well as at his own schools, which he founded in Paris, Berlin, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Bearsville (Woodstock). Some of his students discussed Archipenko’s teachings, including his use of material and artistic processes. Of course, Frances Archipenko Gray’s contributions to the catalogue are invaluable, because as a former student and wife, she witnessed many aspects of his practice. Some of Archipenko’s students also collected his artworks and we aimed to trace those for inclusion in the catalogue raisonné as much as possible.
How do we adjudicate between the sense of accuracy designed by the artist with the expected chrononormativity of the catalogue raisonné? This seems to be a unique challenge in light of a statement by Archipenko: “Sometimes I sculpt a new version of the same statue after considerable time has elapsed. Of course, in modeling the same problem the forms are not as mathematically exact as if they were cast from the same mold. However, on all versions I prefer to keep the date of the first, since I want to conserve the chronology of the idea. The particular stylistic and creative approach I use equally in all versions unless changes are purposely made.”
Archipenko’s practice included not only issuing sculptural editions, but also making later versions of previously made works. Therefore, our sculpture catalogue raisonné might be one of the more complicated ones to produce. We aimed to translate Archipenko’s practice into the catalogue raisonné and to make the process transparent. In some instances, a sculpture might have three different dates attached: the date of original conception, the date of the version, and the date of the casting. Take Geometric Statuette, for example. The original version is dated 1914. In 1935, Archipenko created a second version which was then used as a model for cast aluminum in 1956, as well as a later bronze edition.
In our research and cataloguing, we also describe sculptural editions, in which artworks were fabricated under the supervision of the artist, but not necessarily made by his hand. This includes metal casting and marble carving.
Merleau-Ponty saw universal principles behind what it is that makes an artist capable of working in multiple media. How can we relate to Archipenko’s work across sculpture, painting, drawing, along with innovations such as sculpto-painting and the Archipentura?
In general, Archipenko subscribed to universalism and in particular to the vitalist philosophy of Henri Bergson. Throughout Archipenko’s lifelong career, he used different media to realize creative ideas. Experimenting with material, color, form, and surface as well as using a variety of different media were a profound part of his practice. While Archipenko was defined as a sculptor, he also made drawings, paintings, prints, and objects such as Archipentura (a machine that produced moving images). He also designed display windows and had commissions for architectural sites. The artworks are all interrelated. It is not uncommon to find the same motif or subject in a variety of media.
As Archipenko was credited with having drawn modern sculpture back to a close consideration of color, how does the catalogue raisonné work with color in the reproduction of artworks?
Whenever available, the catalogue raisonné includes color photographs of the artwork. If possible, we illustrate different views of the objects as well as details. When we are able to direct our own photography, we hire a professional photographer. Our process includes placing a color chart next to the object in the first shot, so that we have a standard reference point for color.
How has the artist’s library informed the catalogue raisonné?
Archipenko’s own library contains over 200 books referring to a range of topics, some of which are annotated. These references were helpful in order to establish chronology and confirm places and dates. Moreover, some books about materials, informed our knowledge of Archipenko’s processes and choices of production.
What association did the artist have with the poets and poetry of his time?
Archipenko’s artistic network included many artists, including writers and poets. Especially, while living in France, Archipenko was close to Guillaume Apollinaire and Blaise Cendrars, both poets. Apollinaire, also an art critic, strongly supported Archipenko. And, Cendrars was inspired by one of Archipenko’s sculptures and dedicated a poem La Tête to him. Writing was also part of Archipenko’s practice, and he wrote extensively about his art, creativity, and pedagogy.
Along with the catalogue raisonné, Archipenko has been the subject of a biography-in-art and a personal biography. How do these works speak to each other? What other stories are there to be told about the artist’s life and works in the years to come?
Archipenko self-published Fifty Creative Years. It was the first illustrated monographic survey of his work but also on his philosophies on art and creativity. The volume contains many color images of his work, excerpts of his writing, quotes from philosophers and critics as well as biographical information, including lists of exhibitions and teaching engagements. Archipenko’s own archival records were a starting point for our cataloguing. However, our catalogue raisonné expands tremendously on Fifty Creative Years. It is organized much more comprehensively, and includes, for example, each individual work in a sculpture edition, casting details, provenance details, and multiple views of an object. Moreover, it is organized as a searchable database, with a wide range of search parameters.
Frances Archipenko Gray was Archipenko’s former student and second wife. She lived with Archipenko for a decade, in which she witnessed his artistic practice. Her memoir (My Life with Archipenko, 2014) narrates her experience and perspective. Her book offers a valuable layer of information, especially in regard to his later works.
We just began our next project phase, which is cataloguing the works on paper. There are still numerous aspects of Archipenko’s life and work to be researched and told. In a future update of the catalogue raisonné, we plan to add relevant archival documents, such as installation views, exhibition catalogue references, and correspondence.
Interview conducted by Carl Schmitz, Director of Communications and Publications