Alexander Archipenko, 1936, Seated Figure, terracotta, 15 1/2″ x 9″ x 4″  (Roz Akin, Artwork © Estate of Alexander Archipenko/Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York).

More than a hundred years ago, Ukrainian-American artist Alexander Archipenko pioneered the use of the Japanese concept Ma in cubist sculpture. Ma, which roughly translates from Japanese as ‘gap’—the space between two structural parts— is often described as a negative space, a pause in time, an interval, or a void. It signifies the unoccupied in space and time that is essential to life – with no time and no space left, there is no possibility to grow. The pictorial representation of kanji character for Ma is a Door and a Sun – the door is open and the sunlight is coming through. The concept of negative space – an application of Ma to visual arts – was named by Archipenko ‘the space encircled’, “Traditionally, there was a belief that sculpture begins where material touches space. Thus space was understood as a kind of frame around the mass. (…) Ignoring this tradition, I experimented, using the reverse idea, and concluded that sculpture may begin where space is encircled by the material”.

WHO: Alexander Archipenko, curated by Matthew Stephenson and Archipenko Foundation
WHAT: Space Encircled
WHERE: Eykyn Maclean, 23 East 67th Street, New York
WHEN: November 9, 2018 – December 14, 2018

Born in Kiev in 1887, Archipenko spent most of his formative years in Paris, where he was second only to Picasso to transform the ideas of Cubism into sculptures. He immigrated to the United States in 1923, where he lived and worked until his death in 1964. Archipenko’s metaphysical approach to objects, his ideas of immaterial energy and its transformation into material form were significant inventions; his introduction of the pictorial into the three dimensional space challenged the traditional understanding of sculpture. These radical innovations earned him recognition as one of the most important sculptors of the 20th Century and a central figure in the history of the Avant-guard movement.

The first Alexander Archipenko’s solo-show since 2005 is now on view at Eykyn Maclean gallery. The exhibition is organized in collaboration with Matthew Stephenson, worldwide representative of the Archipenko Foundation, and with the support of the Archipenko Foundation, which lent a number of works to the show. The works, skillfully arranged within relatively small gallery space, cover almost half of a century time span and present comparably wide range of materials and media, including bronze and terra cotta sculptures, works on paper, and paintings.

Alexander Archipenko with a bronze cast of Walking, 1912–1918/1952.
the photograph was taken in 1960 during the exhibition “Archipenko, 50 Jahre seines Schaffens” (Archipenko, 50 years of Production) at Saarlandmuseum Saarbrücken, Germany. Archipenko Archives, the Archipenko foundation.

In the photograph above the artist is shown standing next to one of his sculptures, “Walking”, which he considered as his fundamental work. Its first version, rendered in terracotta, was completed in Paris between 1912 and 1918 and later cast in bronze. “Walking” depicts a female figure in a forward motion and explores the relationship between movement and space. Bought directly from the artist in 1960, the bronze sculpture elicited strong competition from collectors at Sotheby’s November 12th evening auction.  The sculpture was sold for a price nearly three times over its original estimate for a record for this artist $735,000 – an evidence of resurgent interest in his pioneering work.

Alexander Archipenko, Dance,1912-1913/1959
(cast 1964), bronze, 23 5/8″x181/4″x161/2″ (Roz Akin, Artwork © Estate of Alexander Archipenko/Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York).

From an early age, Japanese are taught to make a deliberate pause while deeply bowed, whether to elders or to statues of ancestral gods, to ensure there is enough silence, enough ‘Ma’ to show respect and seek mutual understanding. Exquisite composition of Archipenko’s masterpieces in the Eykyn Maclean exhibition space achieves a similar effect — the sculptures appear to bow to you and to each other. And as a viewer one cannot resist the gravitas and the strength coming from Archipenko’s Negative Spaces, as these magnificent sculptures still uphold the experience of the Door and the Light getting through.