Much more than just a pretty face
An exhibition at the Grand Palais, Paris aims to give a fuller picture of Niki de Saint Phalle
By Ermanno Rivetti. Web only
Published online: 01 September 2014
The Franco-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle will be the subject of a major retrospective exhibition at the Grand Palais, Paris, the first devoted to her work in more than 20 years. More than 200 works, including paintings, sculptures, prints and films, are to go on display (17 September-2 February 2015) along with unseen archival material and videos.
The last time her work was explored in such depth was in 1993, at a retrospective at the Musée de l’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. This show aims to give a fuller picture of the artist, who kept producing new work until her death in 2002. “Niki de Saint Phalle’s famous Tarot Garden, her largest public art project, had not yet opened” at the time of the 1993 show, says Camille Morineau, the show’s curator. “So we will be exploring that in some detail, as well as her assemblages from the late 1950s, which constitute her first body of work but were also absent from the show in 1993.”
Saint Phalle achieved fame during her lifetime with a series of provocative, and sometimes violent works, such as her “Shooting Pictures” from the early 1960s, which she made by shooting at paint-filled pockets of plaster with a rifle. She is perhaps best-known to the general public for her large-scale, colourful sculptures of the female form, however these actually make up only a small part of her overall body of work.
Saint Phalle was accepted by both the New Realism artistic movement in France, and the Neo Dada and Pop Art circles in the US—no mean feat at the time for a self-taught woman artist. The show will therefore draw attention to her role as a multicultural, multifaceted and socio-politically engaged artist. “Saint Phalle was one of the first, if not the first artist to openly address her feminist ideology in her work. She was also very preoccupied with the political landscape of her time, the Cold War and the war in Algeria, as well as civil rights in the US. It’s easier to see women as symbols of joy or of comfort, rather than holding a gun and engaging with politics,” says Morineau, who believes Saint Phalle was ultimately the victim of sexism within the art world, “but at the same time the colourful and decorative aspects of her work should not be ignored.”
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