Believed to be an originator of Cubist sculpture, Alexander Archipenko was born in 1887 in Kiev, Russia (now Ukraine). His desire to study art began at age 13 when his artist-grandfather gave him a book on Michelangelo’s drawings to while away the hours as he recovered from a bicycle accident. Archipenko began his studies in Kiev, moving to Paris in 1908. There he studied briefly at the École des Beaux-Arts. Finding the academy too confining, he left to exhibit at the Salon des Artistes Independents, subsequently joining the Cubist group Section d’Or. In Section d’Or Archipenko fraternized with the leading Cubist artists of the day including Picasso, Braque, Gris and Léger. In 1910 Archipenko began to create sculptures with broken contours, and in 1912 he introduced a completely new aesthetic by incorporating concavities in his sculpture, playing with space and creating sculpture-paintings. The sculpture-paintings were themselves radical: instead of using traditional materials such as marble and bronze, Archipenko used wood, glass and metal. He nailed and pasted the materials together and painted them bright colors. In 1921 he moved to Berlin, and in 1922 he had his first one-man show in the United States. Archipenko became an American citizen in 1928, and died in his New York City home in 1964.
Alexander Archipenko’s use of space was revolutionary. The movement of the sculptures’ lines brought them alive, and this movement became an integral component of Archipenko’s forms. Volumes became concave spaces and voids became openings in the sculpture’s surface. Archipenko combined the Cubist preoccupation with abstracted and fragmented forms with his own ideas about space and movement to pioneer the use of positive and negative space in sculpture.
Queen of Sheba emerged from Archipenko’s investigations into space. The bronze sculpture, the first in an edition of eight, is a study in concave and convex spaces. The abstracted form represents a woman–rounded hips, arms, breasts are all visible–a subject that fascinated the artist. The concave and slightly tilted components evoke female sensuality while lending the sculpture with a subtle sense of movement. The negative space invites the viewer to fully experience the sculpture by encouraging a close study of the inner form. The figure appears to be simultaneously dancing and enveloping the viewer; this perceived fullness was new to western sculpture.