Niki de Saint Phalle. Salut Picasso from Homage to Picasso (Hommage à Picasso). 1973. Screenprint from a portfolio of thirty-one lithographs (one with aquatint, one with collotype, one with screenprint), twenty-two screenprints (one with embossing, one with flocking, one with stencil), eleven etchings (five with aquatint, one with aquatint and drypoint, one with aquatint, drypoint, and engraving), three aquatints (one with etching), and two woodcuts. composition (irreg.): 19 5/8 x 25 7/16" (49.8 x 64.6cm); sheet: 21 5/8 x 29 7/8" (55 x 75.9cm). Gift of Dorothy Miller (by exchange). © 2023 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

“I realized that there was nothing more shocking than joy.”

Niki de Saint Phalle

“Ready! On your marks! Red, yellow, blue, the painting weeps, the painting is dead. I’ve killed the painting.”1 So declared the self-taught artist Niki de Saint Phalle, who caught the attention of the French art scene and the popular press in February 1961 when she staged her first Tirs or Shooting Paintings. For this project, Saint Phalle created assemblages on wooden boards with items such as toys, tools, bicycle wheels, clothing, chicken wire, and plaster embedded with paint-filled plastic bags. She painted these constructions white, then she and others shot at them with a rifle, bursting the bags and covering her “assassinated” paintings with drips of color. “I was shooting at myself, society with its INJUSTICES,” the artist later explained. “I was shooting at my own violence and the VIOLENCE of the times.”2

One Tir, Shooting Painting American Embassy, was created during a June 1961 performance that Saint Phalle staged with artists Jasper Johns, Jean Tinguely, and Robert Rauschenberg at the theater of the American Embassy in Paris in honor of the experimental composer and musician David Tudor. Her prepared white assemblage was brought out onto the stage and shot at by an experienced marksman who stood up in the audience.

Saint Phalle soon expanded this practice to shooting at sculptures, including a reproduction of the classical Greek statue Venus de Milo and forms of her own creation, often representations of women. She continued this turn to the sculptural, shifting from the violence of the Shooting Paintings to a joyful celebration of the female form. Her Nanas, a French slang for girls, are brightly colored and patterned sculptures of women in action. They dance, run, somersault, dive, and leap; according to Saint Phalle, they are provocative in their own right. “I thought beforehand that to be provocative, you had to attack religion or generals,” she has said. “I realized that there was nothing more shocking than joy.”3

She soon moved on to planning joyful works on a monumental scale, including a project for a Nana house that one could enter and a large Golem sculpture on a playground: three long red tongues unfurling from its open mouth are slides that children can chute down. This practice culminated in The Tarot Garden in Tuscany, Italy, which Saint Phalle worked on for over 20 years. Finally opened to the public in 1998, the garden features 22 massive sculptures, some almost 50 feet high. Based on cards from the tarot deck, including the Empress, the High Priestess, and the Magician, the sculptures are brightly painted, with mosaics of glass, mirrors, and stones.

Saint Phalle was an early advocate for HIV/AIDS education, and in 1986 she wrote and illustrated the book AIDS: You Can’t Catch It Holding Hands, which explains how the virus is transmitted and encourages compassion for those suffering from infection. It has been translated into five languages and distributed to hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren around the world.

In the last years of her life, Saint Phalle continued to employ her art for activism, producing a number of illustrations addressing issues such as global warming, a woman’s right to choose, and gun violence in the United States. Reflecting on her life and work, Saint Phalle explained, “I became an artist because I had no choice...I embraced art as my deliverance and a necessity.”4

Lily Goldberg, Collection Specialist, Department of Painting and Sculpture, 2023

  1. Saint Phalle, Niki de, Carla Schulz-Hoffmann, and Pierre Descargues. Niki de Saint Phalle: Bilder, Figuren, phantastische Gärten (Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1987), p. 53.

  2. Saint Phalle, Niki de, and Camille Morineau. Niki de Saint Phalle: 1930–2002 (Paris: Réunion des musées nationaux, 2014), p. 320.

  3. Ibid., p. 335.

  4. Saint Phalle, Niki de, Carla Schulz-Hoffmann, Pierre Restany, and Pierre Descargues. Niki de Saint Phalle: My Art, My Dreams (Munich: Prestel, 2003), p. 34.

Wikipedia entry
Niki de Saint Phalle (French: [niki d(ə) sɛ̃ fal]; born Catherine Marie-Agnès Fal de Saint Phalle; 29 October 1930 – 21 May 2002) was a French-American sculptor, painter, filmmaker, and author of colorful hand-illustrated books. Widely noted as one of the few female monumental sculptors, Saint Phalle was also known for her social commitment and work. She had a difficult and traumatic childhood and a much-disrupted education, which she wrote about many decades later. After an early marriage and two children, she began creating art in a naïve, experimental style. She first received worldwide attention for angry, violent assemblages which had been shot by firearms. These evolved into Nanas, light-hearted, whimsical, colorful, large-scale sculptures of animals, monsters, and female figures. Her most comprehensive work was the Tarot Garden, a large sculpture garden containing numerous works ranging up to house-sized creations. Saint Phalle's idiosyncratic style has been called "outsider art"; she had no formal training in art, but associated freely with many other contemporary artists, writers, and composers. Her books and abundant correspondence were written and brightly-colored in a childish style, but throughout her lifetime she addressed many controversial and important global problems in the bold way children often use to question and call out unacceptable neglect. Throughout her creative career, she collaborated with other well-known artists such as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Larry Rivers, composer John Cage, and architect Mario Botta, as well as dozens of less-known artists and craftspersons. For several decades, she worked especially closely with Swiss kinetic artist Jean Tinguely, who also became her second husband. In her later years, she suffered from multiple chronic health problems attributed to repeated exposure to airborne glass fibers and petrochemical fumes from the experimental materials she had used in her pioneering artworks, but she continued to create prolifically until the end of her life. A critic has observed that Saint Phalle's "insistence on exuberance, emotion and sensuality, her pursuit of the figurative and her bold use of color have not endeared her to everyone in a minimalist age". She was well known in Europe, but her work was little-seen in the US, until her final years in San Diego. Another critic said: "The French-born, American-raised artist is one of the most significant female and feminist artists of the 20th century, and one of the few to receive recognition in the male-dominated art world during her lifetime".
Information from Wikipedia, made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License
Getty record
Self-taught artist; worked with romantic partner and then husband Jean Tinguely. Part of the Nouveaux Réalistes group from 1961. Known for assemblages that were shot with guns to release paint, other assemblage works, collaborative monumental sculptures with Tinguely, and usually figurative sculptures of the female form that she called "Nanas."
French, American, Swiss
Artist, Author, Manufacturer, Writer, Theatrical Painter, Graphic Artist, Installation Artist, Painter, Sculptor
Niki de Saint-Phalle, Niki de St.-Phalle, Niki de Saint Phalle, Niki de Saint-Phall, Niki De Saint-Phalle, Catherine Marie-Agnès Fal de Saint Phalle, De Saint-Phall Mathews, Niki De St. Phall, Niki Mathews, Niki De E, Niki de Saint- Phalle, Catherine Marie-Agnès Fal de Saint-Phalle, Niki De St. Phalle, Niki de St. Phalle
Information from Getty’s Union List of Artist Names ® (ULAN), made available under the ODC Attribution License


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