The Hidden Gems
There is a museum here in Tulsa, a gem relatively unknown outside of Oklahoma and the art world. Philbrook Museum of Art was originally an Italian inspired mansion built in 1927 by Waite Phillips of Phillips 66 lineage. He and his wife gave the estate to Tulsa in 1938 as an art center and it’s been Tulsa’s center of art appreciation and education ever since.
Alexander Archipenko is also a gem relatively unknown outside the art world. If you know Cubist and Modernist art history, specifically sculpture, you may have heard of him. Otherwise it’s not likely.
Even though I am an artist and studied art history, I know of Archipenko for a more personal reason. My grandparents had a great collection of art in their house growing up. Most were mid-twentieth century American drawings and prints. But they had one art piece that was different than all the rest. It was a small figurative sculpture by Alexander Archipenko.
I had largely forgotten about this sculpture when In 2012 I was leading a group of photographers on a photo shoot called ‘Black and White at Philbrook’. I turned into one of the 72 rooms of the mansion/museum and found this in front of me.
I knew immediately it was the sculpture. I knew it wasn’t THE sculpture because the one my grandparents had was silver plated bronze and this was just bronze. But it was the same sculpture made from the same mold. Most bronze sculptures are made in multiples.
I actually got giddy about this unexpected find. I remember telling some of the people with me about it being the same one I had been around as a kid. I wasn’t at all sure they believed me, but I was excited nonetheless. It brought me back to my youth, to my grandparent’s house and to my unadulterated love of art.
Here is another view of the piece I took in color so I could send it to my family to double check my memory. My older sister at first wasn’t sure it was the right one but eventually came to the conclusion it was.
Touching and Being Touched By
This is the piece. It looks silver but it is actually a bronze sculpture that has been silver plated. All the grandkids loved to touch it’s cool surfaces and trace the lines (maybe the boys a bit more than the girls). I may have been a giggly little boy thinking it was fun to touch a naked sculpture at some point but what I ended with was a love of the form, style and surface. I am sure Mama Powell wasn’t happy about all the fingerprints but I don’t remember it being a big deal. This piece, and the others in their home, really were the visual starting point for me wanting to be an artist from an early age.
I found out in my research that it actually has two names. It’s listed most often as ‘Glorification of Beauty’ but I remember the word concave always being associated with it and it is also named ‘Standing Concave’ The Philbrook piece is named that way for example. Funny how that goes, I know in my own work I might look at an image years later, not remember the title and retitle it something completely different so it would make sense that it could have two names.
Alexander Archipenko (1887-1964)
Archipenko was originally from Kiev in Russia (now part of Ukraine). He moved to Paris in 1908, becoming a creative contemporary of Picasso, Malevich, Duchamp, Derain and others. He moved quickly into a cubist style, but with a sleek sensibility to his work that presaged the Art Moderne design style of later decades.
He was one of the legendary artists exhibiting in the 1913 Armory show in New York City, one of the most controversial art exhibitions in history. His work was mocked (as were many other modern artist’s work) by the New York and American press. In spite of the negative reaction, it wasn’t long before he and many other European artists immigrated to America and established themselves and their styles as the preeminent forces directing the future of art around the world.
As I mentioned, Archipenko was involved with some of the premier artists of his day. These sculptures, with a more theatrical and painterly emphasis than the bronzes sculptures , show in the use of color, form and material and with references to the circus, harlequins, and the female figure, the influence of Picasso and Duchamp in particular.
As he matured as an artist, he retained his interest in those same two directions.
In his later years he won outdoor commissions that allowed him to create in a much larger scale than he had before.
There were many other sculptors working during the first half of the 20th century that both influenced and were influenced by Archipenko. Here are two of them.
Remember, seeing art is one of the best ways of insuring you will see the world in it’s fullest light. It’s always worth exploring art.
If you would like to know more about Archipenko a great place to start is at the Archipenko Foundation, headed by his widow, Frances Archipenko Gray.
You can see others in my ‘Artists I Love’ series here:
- Week #5 – Francisco Goya
- Week #4 – Robert Irwin
- Week #3 – Veruschka
- Week #2 – Albrecht Durer
- Week #1 – Roger Brown
- Week #10 – Coco Larrain
- Week #9 – Nina Levy
- Week #8 – Andy Goldsworthy
- Week #7 – Wayne Thiebaud
- Week #6 – Richard Diebenkorn
- Week #5 – Roy Lichtenstein
- Week #4 – Thomas Hart Benton
- Week #3 – Edward Hopper
- Week #2 – Henri Matisse
- Week #1 – Rembrandt
You can also find them via the ‘Artists’ drop down menu on the right.