Niki de Saint Phalle, Devouring Mothers, 1970, © Niki de Saint Phalle/BUS 2012.

Niki de Saint Phalle, King-Kong, 1962, © Niki de Saint Phalle/BUS 2012.

Niki de Saint Phalle, SHE, Beyond 'a Woman's Place'

Niki de Saint Phalle, Could we have loved?, 1968, © Niki de Saint Phalle/BUS 2012.

Installation view from the exhibition SHE (Niki de Saint Phalle, Jean Tinguely, P.O. Ultvedt) at the Moderna Museet 1966. The SHE exhibition will be presented with documentation and archive material at Moderna Museet Malmö 2012, © Photo: Hans Hammarskiöld.

Niki de Saint Phalle, Ange luminaire, n.d. © Niki de Saint Phalle/BUS 2012.


Moderna Museet Malmö
Gasverksgaten 22
+ 46 40-34 12 00
Niki de Saint Phalle:
The Girl, the Monster and the Goddess

May 12-September 9, 2012

With her “shooting paintings,” Niki de Saint Phalle dramatically entered the art world of the 1960s, and with her spectacular exhibition SHE, the French artist forever secured a place within the international history of art. Saint Phalle is today strongly represented in Moderna Museet’s collection, thanks to donations from the artist herself and from the former museum director Pontus Hultén. The Girl, the Monster and the Goddess presents a majority of these works, some for the first time, together with archival material, newly produced documentaries and a few carefully selected loans. With the exhibition, Moderna Museet wishes to reflect both the vibrant vitality but also the darkness of Saint Phalle’s captivating work.

In 1959, in an era when few women were allowed to make a professional career, Niki de Saint Phalle left her husband and two small children in order to dedicate herself wholeheartedly to her art. The following year she made her first “shooting paintings,” in which encapsulated sacks of paint exploded when shot with a rifle, causing the paintings to bleed. The shooting paintings made a huge splash in the media and Saint Phalle developed them into large-scale reliefs and altar panels depicting the hypocrisy of the church and the waning hegemony of the patriarchy. In preparation for the shootings, she dressed in a special white pantsuit. Siting down the barrel of a gun at the painting, she appeared like nothing less than a fairy-tale heroine, or perhaps a more contemporary action hero like Emma Peel or Modesty Blaise.

“Throughout her entire career as an artist,” says curator Joa Ljungberg, “Niki de Saint Phalle returned to the personal wounds and traumas that led her to become an artist in the first place. In the film Daddy, for example, or in the artist book The Devouring Mothers, we encounter her as a young girl trying to relate to a father who can’t control his own sexuality. With the help of fantasy and mythology Saint Phalle was able to tame the monsters within her, while at the same time bring them together with global and gendered power structures.”

In the late 1950s and early 60s Saint Phalle managed to establish herself internationally. As the first and only woman she joined the French artistic movement, Nouveau Réalisme, which also included Arman, Christo, Yves Klein, Jean Tinguely, and Jacques de la Villeglé. In 1961 she had her first solo exhibition in Paris, got to know the artist duo Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, and participated in the influential group exhibition The Art of Assemblage at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

With the exhibition of SHE – A Cathedral in 1966, Saint Phalle and Moderna Museet made history. Lying on her back with legs spread, this gigantic “nana” filled the entire gallery space. Curious museumgoers could enter through her vagina and wander around inside her body. The rattling and creaking interior, created by Saint Phalle’s fellow artists, Jean Tinguely and Per-Olov Ultvedt, offered amongst other things a milk bar, a planetarium, a goldfish pond, and a movie theater showing Greta Garbo’s first film, Luffar-Petter, from 1922. SHE was referred to as both a pop chick and a fertility goddess, and the exhibition drew headlines like “SHE: a Besetting sin at the Moderna?” “Suggestive First Mother” and “Well, what IS a woman's place?”

Curator of the exhibition is Joe Ljungberg.

Niki de Saint Phalle, L'accouchement rose, 1964, © Niki de Saint Phalle/BUS 2012.

Niki de Saint Phalle, My Monster, 1968, © Niki de Saint Phalle/BUS 2012.


Niki de Saint Phalle, Komposition, 1956, © Niki de Saint Phalle/BUS 2012.

Niki de Saint Phalle, Cheval et la Mariée, 1963, © 2007, NIKI CHARITABLE ART FOUNDATION, All rights reserved.. Photograph Laurent Condominas.

A Consideration and Survey of the Career of Niki de Saint Phalle

Nikki de Saint Phalle with Jean Tinguely, Adam and Eve, detail from Fontaine Stravinsky or "fontaine des Automates" on Place Igor Stravinsky by Centre Pompidou and Ircam, Center for music and acoustic research in the 4th arrondissement in Paris.

Niki de Saint Phalle, Nana Santé, 1999, © 2007, NIKI CHARITABLE ART FOUNDATION, All rights reserved,
Photograph Michael Herling.

Niki de Saint Phalle, Sun God, 1983, © 2007, UCSD Campus, San Diego, Stuart Collection.


Tate Liverpool
Albert Dock
Niki de Saint Phalle
February 1-May 5, 2008

Niki de Saint Phalle is probably best known for her Fontaine Stravinsky works on display outside the Centre Pompidou. This exhibition presents a comprehensive survey of the artist’s entire career and includes key examples of all phases of her work; from her early assemblages and paintings in the 1950s, her acclaimed Shooting Paintings in the early 1960s, her religious altars and bride sculptures in the mid 1960s, the Nanas and larger sculptural works, a wide selection of graphic work, to her late works including the Skull Meditation Room,1990.

Beautiful, flamboyant, daring, provocative and fiercely independent, Niki de Saint Phalle emerged in the 1960s as a powerful and original figure in the masculine international arts world centred around Paris. Yet despite her association with the Nouveau Réalistes, and a number of collaborations with many of the world’s leading artists and her marriage to Jean Tinguely, her work has largely been overlooked, or dismissed as merely playful. A believer in mythology and fairytales, her work is bright and colourful, demonstrating an exuberant love of life, at the same time revealing a certain darkness. This exhibition, a wide-ranging presentation of the work and exploration of her themes and concerns, will attempt to address this oversight and bring her work to a wider audience.

She began her career as an artist in the 1950s when she worked in oils and collage but also began to make small, painted sculptures. Her images were figurative, almost naïve depictions of imaginary landscapes, buildings and creatures, using a broad range of colours and covering surfaces with dense and decorative patterns.

In her Assemblages, begun in the 1950s, she created a very personal world based on found everyday objects that she embedded in plaster as a relief. However they were often littered with violent objects such as knives, scissors, nails and blades. Her darker side was also revealed in portraits of the time, such as Portrait of My Lover, 1961, where the head has been substituted by a target studded with darts. This became part of a series known collectively as the Shooting Paintings (Tirs), with which she is most closely associated, and which secured her place amongst the Nouveau Réalistes, alongside artists such as Yves Klein, Daniel Spoerri and Arman in Paris in the early 1960s.

Undoubtedly influenced by American artists such as Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg who were working in Paris at the time, her Shooting Paintings explored the idea of the violent gesture in abstract art, in what can be read as a parody of the machismo of action painting. Embedding pockets filled with paint and foodstuffs within a thick layer of plaster on canvas, spectators were invited to shoot the paintings in order to make the pictures bleed. Tinguely, Spoerri, Rauschenberg and Johns all participated in the various shoot-outs held between 1961-3. The moment of action and an emphasis on chance were as important as the finished work. She stopped making them in 1963, explaining, “I had become addicted to shooting, like one becomes addicted to a drug.” Niki de Saint Phalle went on to work with these artists in a number of collaborations, such as the décor for Variations II by John Cage at the American Embassy in Paris, and in 1962 with Rauschenberg, Martial Raysse, Daniel Spoerri, Per Olaf Ulveld and Ad Peterson on the Dylaby exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

As Niki de Saint Phalle’s work progressed, she became interested in ideas of femininity and the representation of women. She originally explored these ideas through a series of works on the theme of the Bride. This led to the Nanas, which were very large brightly coloured sculptures of women that, due to their generous size and form, have become iconic and enduring archetypal images of maternity and femininity. In 1966 she created a 28 metre long Nana, Hon, for the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, where visitors were invited to enter the woman between her legs, inside of which they found a bar, a screening room and various viewing platforms. Niki de Saint Phalle continued to explore these themes until her death in 2002, as well as working on more monumental works that culminated in the magical Il Giardino dei Tarocchi (Tarot Garden) in Italy.

Lothar Wolleh, Portrait of Niki de Saint Phalle, 1970.

Niki de Saint Phalle, The Bride, or Miss Haversham's dream, 1965, © 2008, NIKI CHARITABLE ART FOUNDATION, All rights reserved, Photo: Laurent Condominas.