Materials and Process

Niki de Saint Phalle. Shooting Painting American Embassy. 1961 477

Paint, plaster, wood, plastic bags, shoe, twine, metal seat, axe, metal can, toy gun, wire mesh, shot pellets, and other objects on wood, 96 3/8 x 25 7/8 x 8 5/8" (244.8 x 65.7 x 21.9 cm). Gift of the Niki Charitable Art Foundation. © Niki Charitable Art Foundation

Curator, Anne Umland: The artist Niki de Saint-Phalle's Shooting Painting American Embassy was created during a performance in Paris on June 20, 1961.

De Saint-Phalle was the only female member of a French group known as the Nouveaux Réalistes, or the New Realists. And these artists were interested in finding new ways, as Robert Rauschenberg famously put it, of “working in the gap between art and life.” They did so by recycling things scavenged from the street or from the garbage can and introducing them into their art. If you look at the lower portion, there are all sorts of scavenged objects a bucket seat and a plastic toy gun, a hatchet, and an old shoe.

If you look at its upper section, I hope you can see that embedded in that messy layer of plaster and wire are plastic packages of paint. And de Saint-Phalle burst many of these packages by shooting at them with a rifle, causing those cascades of brightly colored paint to pour down over the cluttered surface of this work. Her stated goal was "to make a painting that would bleed." In doing this, she repositioned the art of painting and of assemblage into a highly charged physical performance.

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