In his first major American exhibition, the vision of the world of the Franco-American sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle shines at MoMA PS1


A legendary figure who fought and transformed the rigidity of the art world, Franco-American sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle finally received a well-deserved American reception in honor of her pioneering work at MoMA PS1.

During her five-decade career, the French-born, New York-raised artist bravely challenged categorical constraints to explore limitless artistic practice. And the MoMA PS1 exhibition, subscribed by the Swiss luxury care home La Prairie and entitled “Niki de Saint Phalle: Structures for Life», More than 200 works covering sculpture, drawings, video and more reveal the vast scope of Saint Phalle’s imagination and an unwavering dedication to his craft.

Niki de Saint Phalle, L’Estrella Carta n ° XVII (The Star) (1997). © 2021 Niki Charitable Art Foundation.

As a child, Saint Phalle was subjected to a violent and tumultuous household. A deeply ingrained trauma resulting from emotional and physical abuse would remain with Saint Phalle throughout his life. But rather than let it engulf him, Saint Phalle channeled the tragedy into an artistic practice.

On the recommendation of her psychiatrist, she began to translate the lingering pain of her youth into paintings. With the intention of creating joy, she began to adopt a visual vocabulary of almost childish iconography, using a distinct palette of primary colors to build worlds of optimism and hope.

From the start, Saint Phalle’s practice explores human complexities. It has hosted impactful topics, closely analyzing, for example, the treatment of women in society, and sought to transform and transcend these themes into a utopian existence.

Thus, Sainte Phalle offered herself a form of escape from the sadness she carried. The game will also remain at the heart of Saint Phalle’s work throughout his career, which she acknowledges preventing him from falling into the traps of depression. Although many in the traditional art world would reject the invitation to such a concept for fear of not being taken seriously, Saint Phalle brilliantly adopted tatting as a mechanism for connecting with audiences around the world.

Niki de Saint Phalle.  The Stravinsky fountain.  vs.  1983. Photo: Green Moon Marketing.  © 2021 Niki Charitable Art Foundation

Niki de Saint Phalle, The Stravinsky fountain (c. 1983). Photo: Green Moon Marketing. © 2021 Niki Charitable Art Foundation.

From the start of her public life, Sainte Phalle was not afraid to rebel against the expectations placed on women. Called by Gloria Steinem “the first free woman I have ever seen,” her practice was intentionally loud and shameless. Carving out a path in the 1950s was no small feat. At that time, women were both explicitly and implicitly instructed to take up little space, to remain submissive to their male counterparts, to marry young, and to live for the sole purpose of producing and caring for children. House.

Tif Sainte Phalle began her adult life by assuming the roles of wife and mother, she will reclaim her life through her artistic practice. She quickly found herself in a tight-knit artist community made up almost entirely of men, including Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and Jean Tinguely, who would become her second husband.

Although Saint Phalle began to gain attention for “Tirs”, a collection of paintings produced by pistol firing at plaster reliefs that released pockets of paint, his work would be cemented in the iconography of the history of art through the series “Nanas”. As figures of female inspiration with curvy and exaggerated bodies, the “Nanas” of Saint Phalle turned to the history of art and the way in which women have been represented since antiquity, and have in further sought to dismantle notions of the female form as a sort of object. The “Nanas” were catchy, bold and very memorable, fueling an ongoing dialogue.

Niki de Saint Phalle.  Mini Nana House.  vs.  1968. © 2021 Niki Charitable Art Foundation

Niki de Saint Phalle, “Mini Nana maison” (around 1968). © 2021 Niki Charitable Art Foundation.

A key aspect of the “Nanas” which existed elsewhere in the practice of Saint Phalle is a “disarming simplicity”, a term coined by Ruba Katrib, curator of “Niki de Saint Phalle: Structures for Life. “ The nuances of the artist’s work were always far more complex than what visual language could offer. Saint Phalle did not want to isolate audiences with complexities; rather, she invited the masses to appreciate her work as a shared human experience. “Her Nanas confront Western standards of femininity and decorum: they are brash, ecstatic and embrace sexuality,” Katrib noted in a statement from La Prairie. “She created her Nanas on such a large scale specifically so that they could dominate – literally dominate – men. Sainte Phalle was also an iconoclast in her personal style and way of life.

While still an intrinsic part of Saint Phalle’s work, political and social issues would become more evident in the artist’s work towards the latter part of his career.

Niki de Saint Phalle.  AIDS blanket, you can't catch it holding your hand.  1986. Book;  published by Bucher.  Photo: FDOC Archives.  © 2021 Niki Charitable Art Foundation

Niki de Saint Phalle, book cover AIDS, you can’t get it by holding hands (1986). Photo: FDOC Archives. © 2021 Niki Charitable Art Foundation.

During the 1980s, as AIDS enveloped his community, Saint Phalle used his established platform to create work that directly called upon the systems at play to fail to respond sufficiently to the crisis.

Much of the work she would create during this time and in the decades until her death in 2002 seems surprisingly contemporary, especially as climate change, inadequate social and political leadership, and corruption remain critical issues. .

La Prairie Night Oil from the Skin Caviar collection.  Photo courtesy of La Prairie.

La Prairie Night Oil from the Skin Caviar collection. Photo courtesy of La Prairie.

La Prairie’s involvement in “Niki de Saint Phalle: Structures for Lifeis a perfect fit for the brand, which has drawn inspiration from Niki de Saint Phalle’s monumental career since 1982, when the La Prairie team first discovered her work – and her compelling use of cobalt blue, which ‘she once described as “the color of joy and luck” —at a shared design studio in New York City.

With a work that welcomed many forms of creation as a means of self-financing his most ambitious projects, Saint Phalle was working at the time on the production of his own perfume, Flacon de Parfum. From then on, the cobalt blue of the Saint Phalle perfume bottle will serve as a direct inspiration for the color of La Prairie’s iconic Skin Caviar Collection.. This fall, the iconic collection goes beyond the facelift and firming, and travels to the depths of the cobalt night with the Skin Caviar Night Oil, impregnated with Retinol Caviar. An innovative Bauhaus-inspired double-glass case houses and protects an elusive and powerful new ingredient, caviar retinol, derived from the legendary Swiss caviar extract from La Prairie. Niki de Saint Phalle committed her life to progressivism, just as La Prairie showed an unwavering duty to pioneering discoveries.

For more content see the links below.

Art Basel x Niki
La Prairie x MoMA PS1: Artistic conference “Meet Niki”
LA Prairie on Niki de Saint Phalle

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest news, eye-opening interviews and cutting-edge reviews that keep the conversation going.


About Author

Comments are closed.