Niki de Saint-Phalle

Niki de Saint-Phalle is born in Neuilly-sur-Seine near Paris. After her family moves to New York in 1933 her childhood and youth are spent in America; she returns to Europe in 1951. In 1953 she produces her first works in the field of painting without prior formal training. She comes into contact with the works of Jean Tinguely, Yves Klein, and Robert Rauschenberg in 1955. In her first solo-exhibition in 1956 in St. Gallen, she shows plaster reliefs and material assemblages.

In 1961 Niki de Saint-Phalle becomes famous overnight with her scandalous shooting interventions in Paris, Stockholm und Copenhagen. In the Actions she fires shots at white plaster busts, in order to make the underlying color bags burst. With this striking iconoclastic move she creates the impression of destroying and creating the picture at the same time.

Parallel to the shooting interventions Saint-Phalle designs first material Assemblages, which center on motifs of sexual aggression and juvenile imaginary worlds that are clearly influenced by surrealist and psychoanalytical ideas. (Pink Nude with Dragon 1956/58; Le hachoir 1960). In 1961 she joins the group of painters called Nouveau Réalisme, whose name dates back to 1960 and the art critic Pierre Restany. The members of the group, including Daniel Spoerri, César, Christo, Yves Klein and Jean Tinguely understand themselves as representatives of a radical anti-art, who take their work material from the waste products of society.

From 1963 on, Saint-Phalle turns to the topic of female sexuality, whose social conventionalization she decisively offsets with grotesque and hypertrophic body assemblages and theatrical installations of women giving birth, brides, witches, and whores (Le cheval et la mariée 1963/64, L’Accouchement rose, 1964). Finally her famous Nana-figures are created in 1966 – large format and colorfully painted buxom women figures that Saint-Phalle forms out of wool, thread, paper maché and wire structures, and later out of polyester. The most famous example of these giant sculptures is the walk-in female Nana-sculpture Hon-en katedral, which she builds in 1966 together with Jean Tinguely and Per Olof Ultvedt in the Moderna Museet Stockholm. The artist is effectively ironic in her critique of the traditional understanding of the female nude in an over-board vividly colorful matriarchal cult celebration. Important individual exhibitions take place in1968 in Zürich, London, Paris, and Düsseldorf.
With her repertoire of figures, which Niki de Saint-Phalle expands with fairtytale-like, fantastic beings, she also designs together with Jean Tinguely a series of public sculptures, mainly wells in which kinetic objects belonging to her partner set narrative accents in an absurd manner (Strawinsky-well, Paris 1983; Life Saver, Duisburg 1991).

Saint-Phalle’s many architecture projects since 1969 (Golem Jerusalem, 1972; Nana-Piscine St. Tropez, 1974) flow into the monumental Tuscan Giardino dei Tarocchi (Tarot garden), which is created from 1979 to 1997. Here the most important figures of the Tarot are part of the walk through sculpture landscape, that are inspired by the famous gardens of Bomarzo or the Villa d’Este.

In addition to her sculptural works in architecture and painting Saint-Phalle also devotes herself to directing and film projects (Daddy 1973; Camélia et le Dragon, 1975 / 76) and designs for furniture, jewelry, costumes and stages.

Niki de Saint-Phalle dies in San Diego, California, in 2002.

Selected Literature

Niki de Saint Phalle. Der Tarot-Garten, Skulpturen, Entwürfe, Zeichnungen: Ausst.-Kat. Sprengel-Museum, hg. v. Ulrich Krempel, Hannover, 2005

Die Geburt der Nanas. Die Kunst der Niki de Saint Phalle in den 1960er Jahren: Ausst.-Kat. Sprengel Museum, Hannover, 2003

La fête. Die Schenkung Niki de Saint-Phalles. Werke aus den Jahren 1952 — 2001: Ausst.-Kat. Hannover, hg. v. Ulrich Krempel. Ostfildern Ruit 2001

Niki de Saint Phalle. Bilder – Figuren – Phantastische Gärten: hg. v. Carla Schulz-Hoffmann, München, 1997

Bildrechte: gemeinfrei, Foto: Peter Hinschläger Foto: Tobias Roch, Hagen Bildrechte: VG Bild Kunst, Bonn 2014 Bildrechte: Calder Foundation New York / Foto Stiftung Lehmbruck Museum

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