If you were looking for new things to explore in North London, the recently-launched exhibition at the Estorick Collection should definitely make the top of your list. The gallery is located right at the heart of Islington and remains one of its most inspiring gems. The Islington Storyteller was kindly invited to the opening of the new exhibition ‘Archipenko and the Italian Avant Garde’. It will be on display until the 4th of September 2022 so do make sure to check it out!
In this article, Darya, an Arts History graduate and contributor to our blog, shares her experience of the exhibition.
Meet the Artist
The ‘Archipenko and the Italian Avant Garde’ exhibition presents an alternative history of modernism by showcasing a variety of pieces by the Ukrainian-American artist. The exhibition was skillfully curated to convey the relationship between Archipenko’s art and that of the masters of the Italian Avant-Garde.
Alexander Archipenko is perceived to be one of the most influential and talented sculptors of the twentieth century, who greatly contributed to the development of the cubist movement in sculpture. The artist was born in Kyiv, Ukraine. It was here that Archipenko began his artistic career. After attending the Kyiv Art school, the artist shortly moved to Moscow and then Paris, where he exhibited his works in several group shows. He eventually settled in Paris where, under the influence of cubist imagery, Archipenko developed his own modern interpretation of sculpture.
Although Archipenko lived abroad most of his life, the artist’s Ukrainian origins had a significant impact on the development of his artistic style. The impact of his Ukrainian origin is very explicitly displayed in his use of colour. As we saw throughout the exhibition, the majority of Archipenko’s works on display boasted a bright colour palette, reminiscent of Ukrainian traditional ornamentation. Archipenko’s grandfather was an iconographer which is why Byzantine icons, frescoes and mosaics, found in Kyiv to this day, had been a source of inspiration for the development of the elegant and delineated, yet boldly progressive style of Archipenko’s sculptures.
What will you see at the Estorick Collection?
During our visit, we met Matthew Stephenson, the global representative of Archipenko’s legacy. Matthew showed us around and explained some of the ideas behind the artworks on display. As we roamed through the exhibition, it became clearer why Archipenko was thought to challenge the traditional perception of sculpture. Matthew pointed out the use of glass, wood, metal and wire which was revolutionary for modernist sculpture of the early twentieth century. Not only that, Archipenko’s artistic process did not involve carving or modelling but was oriented to nailing, pasting and tying sculptural elements together with no visible attempt to hide nails, junctures or seams.
We were amazed by the variety of unusual sculptural forms and the exquisite use of colour so we decided to look at some of the pieces in more detail.
Figure (Version B), cast in 1950s
Look out for Figure (version B) (1917-21/1950s, oil on wood, private collection, New York). It presents one of Archipenko’s groundbreaking artistic features, the fusion of two forms of visual art, painting and sculpture. When we pointed out the two dates in the description, Matthew explained that the first marks the inception of the idea whereas the second relates to the execution of the artist’s plan. Figure (Version B) presents us with an abundance of geometric shapes, creating a collage-like appearance reminiscent of a puzzle. The shapes seem to be colliding and yet also decidedly complement each other resulting in a unified balanced composition. The high and low reliefs of the shapes create a three-dimensional experience of the piece, making it ever more captivating.
Seated Figure, 1917
Another piece we found especially interesting was Seated Figure (1917, painted wood, from the collection of Dale Taylor and Angela Lustig). This artwork, like most of Archipenko’s pieces displayed at the exhibition, shows a human figure where it is quite complicated to distinguish separate body parts. We were surprised to see how masterfully the artist managed to create the impression of these curvilinear shapes flowing into each and so helping the curious observer to imagine more realistic forms of a human body. The negative space one can see in the ‘imaginary stomach area’ encouraged us, as viewers, to fulfil this visible absence with our imagination.
Seated Figure, cast in 1970
Finally, Matthew’s favourite sculpture is ‘The Seated Figure (Conceived 1913/54 cast (1970) for its extraordinary representation of the human body.
Archipenko harmoniously juxtaposed the figure’s sinuous curves against her angular posture, creating a dynamic contrast between the curvilinear and rectilinear. The artist also used rich turquoise colour to unify the forms with one another enhancing their exceptional appearance. This is the reason why this sculpture is special and certainly worth seeing!matthew stephenson, archipenko foundation Global representative
As you will have guessed by now, the ‘Archipenko and the Italian Avant Garde’ exhibition is definitely worth visiting and would be a read start for your first acquaintance with the Estorick Collection. If you are an experienced exhibition goer, the Collection also regularly hosts educational events and has a cosy summer café – things to keep in mind for your next visit.
The Estorick Collection is open Wednesday-Sunday and can be found at 39A Canonbury Square, London N1 2AN.
About the author: Having studied Art History at the Courtauld, Darya has a long-standing fondness for modern art and is always on the lookout for intriguing exhibitions of modernist art in London and beyond. The Estorick Collection in Islington has become an exciting recent discovery for her!
NB! If you would also like to contribute to the Islington Storyteller, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.