Author(s): Camille Morineau
This gorgeous volume offers the most complete overview in print of the oeuvre of Niki de Saint Phalle, one of the most influential and popular artists of the postwar period. The French-American artist was educated according to the social codes of upper-class New York society, but boldly rejected the expectations of her family to instead choose a career in art. Moving to Paris in the 1960s, she befriended the Nouveau Réaliste artists Martial Raysse, Daniel Spoerri and Jean Tinguely, creating her famous "Shooting Paintings," the "Nanas" (brightly chromatic biomorphic sculptures of female archetypes), as well as experimental films, decors and costumes for ballet productions and collaborations with Tinguely, Robert Rauschenberg and others. Saint Phalle was adept at using the media to consolidate her public image, and soon became an icon of the 1960s art scene, attaining a broad cultural profile that was furthered by her numerous public art projects, including the Tarot Garden in Tuscany and the Stravinsky Fountain in Paris. This superbly produced publication-which features a die-cut cover through which Saint Phalle peers, aiming her gun-presents her works in all media, along with ephemera and archival photographs documenting her rich career and life.
Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002) was born near Paris and moved to the US in 1933. During her teen years Saint Phalle was a fashion model and appeared on the cover of "Life" in 1949 and, three years later, on the cover of "French Vogue." At 18 Saint Phalle eloped with author Harry Mathews and moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and later to Paris, where she exhibited at the Alexander Iolas Gallery. In 1971 Saint Phalle married Jean Tinguely, and throughout that decade created the public sculptures and parks for which she became celebrated. Saint Phalle died of emphysema in California in May 2002.
The show opens with collages and paintings in earnest dialogue with Pollock, Dubuffet, and Rauschenberg that the self-taught artist made between the ages of 28 and 31. From 1960 to 1963 she executed her famous Tirs (Shoot) pieces, which drip like Pollocks but which de Saint Phalle produced by shooting a rifle at balloons of colorful paint mounted on white canvases. In the early 1960s, this aristocratic Catholic woman who'd been brought up in a strict household attacked the church with sculptures in the shape of altars strewn with crucifixes. In the mid-'60s she constructed giant, heavy-hearted bride-ghosts and modern Venus of Willendorfs squeezing out babies. In perfectly calibrated formal choices, de Saint Phalle disfigured long-held articles of faith - high art, the family, the church.But then, seemingly out of nowhere, came the Nanas, those girls as heart-stoppingly different from de Saint Phalle's previous work as CÃ©zanne's "The Eternal Feminine" is from any of his still lifes or Mondrian's grids are from his early writhing trees. These Nanas - rotund, ebullient, hungry girls dressed in bold primary colors - twirl on tippy toes and look like they're having a grand old time. They glance back at French art history to Matisse's jubilant dancers and the sturdy females of Gaston Lachaise and Aristide Maillol, and even, surprisingly, to Rodin.--Eunice Lipton"Hyperallergic" (01/26/2015)