6 – 20 OCTOBERSmall is Beautiful: The Art of SculptureBid Now
For centuries, people have sought new ways to artistically render the human form. History’s greatest sculptors succeed by placing that most familiar figure into novel and unexpected relationships with the light, shadows, and spaces surrounding it — and with the viewers, themselves. Below, we look at three sculptures from the Small is Beautiful online auction and their importance in the careers of the artists who created them.
Alexander Archipenko, Woman Combing Her Hair
Alexander Archipenko (1887–1964), Woman Combing Her Hair; signed 'Archipenko' (on the top of the base) with the foundry mark 'Heinze-Barth' (on the side of the base); bronze with light brown patina, 14 in. (35.5 cm.) high; Conceived in 1915, this bronze version cast in Berlin before 1923. Estimate $80,000–120,000. © 2015 Estate of Alexander Archipenko /Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. This work is offered in the Small is Beautiful online auction, 6-20 October
Closely allied with Paris's artistic vanguard, Ukrainian-born artist Alexander Archipenko is widely lauded as the leading and most influential sculptor of the pre-war Paris avant-garde, creating a new modernist language that would leave a lasting legacy on twentieth-century sculpture. He was among the first sculptors to attempt a truly three-dimensional equivalent of Cubism, establishing an entirely new vocabulary.
That Cubist aesthetic can be clearly seen in this piece, Woman Combing Her Hair (1915), which is one of Archipenko’s finest works of the period. Influenced by the Cubist notion of integrating the figure with its surrounding space, Archipenko embraced negative space as an active element, imbuing it with equal value as his solid forms. Through the interplay of plane and shadow, of presence and absence, he incorporates light into the sculpture, adding an element of dynamism, as though the figure were advancing and receding simultaneously.
Although Archipenko’s aesthetic changed throughout the years, the power and potency of his work never diminished. He spent his lifetime in relentless pursuit of invention. (‘To invent!’ Archipenko exclaimed two months before his death. ‘Does anything more important exist? In truth, I don't think so.’)
Such invention is evident in Woman Combing Her Hair, in which the artist juxtaposes the archaic, the religious, and the Modernist, playing with colour, texture, and the surface of the bronze. What remains is a timeless quality that eclipses religion, time and culture, becoming instead a testament to the essence of human experience and representation.
Henri Matisse, Nu Assis, Bras Levé
Henri Matisse (1869-1954), Nu assis, bras levé; signed with initials, numbered and stamped with foundry mark ‘H.M 3/10 C. VALSUANI CIRE PERDUE’ (on the back of the figure); bronze with a dark brown patina; 10 in. (25.5 cm.) high, excluding the base; Conceived in Nice in 1949; this bronze version cast in 1958. Estimate $80,000-120,000. his work is offered in the Small is Beautiful online auction, 6-20 October
Nu assis, bras levé (1949) is one of the three sculptures Matisse produced between the end of the 1930s and his death in 1954. These works can be compared to the beloved nude drawings Matisse published in Cahiers d’Art, in 1952, and the now-defunct Verve, in 1958, in which his figures pulse with great freedom and lyricism, unbound by structural constraints.
Matisse strove to depict the essence of the figure, often simplifying his forms in attempt to express the immediacy of his models’ emotions and to capture their characters. As he said in 1908, ‘What interests me most is neither still life nor landscape, but the human figure. It is what best permits me to express my almost religious awe towards life.’
His love for the human form is evident in Nu assis, bras levé, where he explores one of his favourite poses, the raised arms, which, to him, represented confidence and lack of self-consciousness — an expression of freedom that also displayed the splendour of the female body. As in many of Matisse’s works, he has manipulated the body to create interesting shapes and forms, enjoying the interplay of solid and void. In this work, he has foreshortened the arms, which appear to be cut off at the joints, a practice he adopted from 1932. Matisse has also limited facial characteristics so that the figure approaches universality.
Matisse always preferred modeling in clay to carving; he enjoyed the process of reworking and reconstructing, as he did in two-dimensions with his paintings. He relished in the malleability and freedom of the material, integrating into his sculptural practice the primitive, plastic African vernacular that so inspired his work.
Igor Mitoraj, Annunciazione
Igor Mitoraj (B. 1944), Annunciazione; signed and numbered '4/6 Mitoraj' (lower right); bronze with a blue patina; 21 5/8 in. (55 cm.) long; Conceived in 1996; Estimate $80,000–120,000. © 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. his work is offered in the Small is Beautiful online auction, 6-20 October
Widely considered one of the world’s greatest contemporary sculptors, Igor Mitoraj has earned fame for his classicist aesthetic, which he fuses with a distinctly post-modern malaise. Exploring ravaged fragments of classical Greek and Roman figures, decapitated and ruptured anatomies, bandaged heads, and distressed surfaces, Mitoraj potently combines the surreal with the mythological and historical, highlighting the transitory nature of beauty and the imperfection of human nature.
Indeed, the notion of broken beauty has been Mitoraj’s constant muse: In Annunciazione, a wrapped bandage covers the face of one figure, while the other’s head has been deliberately dismembered and cracked so only half of her face and breast remains intact. But the work can also be seen as a commentary on ‘contemporary suffering’, his bound or blindfolded heads highlighting the plight of man. Conceived in a striking blue patina, Annunciazione, is one of the finest examples of Mitoraj’s work, displaying at smaller scale the visually arresting power and energy of his larger, monumental statues.
Mitoraj looks to ancient culture, inspired by the mystical, religious, sensual, and humane qualities it embodied. By referencing the damage inflicted on antiquities by the passing of time, his work contemplates time and the transience of life — and art: The artist worked and studied extensively in Italy, and his fragmented sculptures can also be viewed as an attempt to raise awareness about the eroding heritage of Ancient Roman and Greek patrimony.
These three sculptures can be found in Small is Beautiful: The Art of Sculpture online auction, which is open for bidding from 6-20 October.