The first major Niki de Saint Phalle’s exhibition started on Saturday, August 20th, at Taidehalli in Helsinki. With the exception of an exhibition at the Galerie Forsblom in 1984, Niki de Saint Phalle has never been presented to the Finnish art public.
With more than sixty art works on display, including paintings, figurative assemblages, graphics, Nanas, sculptures and models of dreamy architectural projects, this new exhibition gives the Finnish audience the opportunity to understand the extend of Niki de Saint Phalle’s energy, creativity, techniques and social commentary.
One striking example of this exhibition is the mysterious double-faced polyester sculpture, Grande Tête from 1971.
This unusual piece is part of a series of large and unique artworks made at the beginning of the 70’s and titled almost the same. The name of the first one made in 1969 : Le Témoin (The Witness) leads to a peculiar interpretation of their meaning… Stoic and earless are these enormous heads silent observers? Do they stare? Do they judge?
Le Témoin (The Witness), 1969 Grande Tête, 1970 Grande Tête, 1971
Perhaps a conclusion can be made from Niki de Saint Phalle’s experience of watching the Japanese movie: Rashomon in 1950. In the movie, three witnesses tell the story of what they saw, each version being different … In her book Traces she reflects:
Which version was true? All of them? None of them? Is perceiving is only personal? Does that mean my version is only mine? Where does that put reality? Does it exist? Do I exist? Is life a dream? My dream that I can choose to make a nightmare or a song?
Grande Tête is a giant head divided in two sides. Its faces are decorated with her signature style : flat lines and bold colors. On one half the hair is painted in large locks of light blue, green, red and orange. The nose and the eye, which slightly blinks, are made-up with playful designs as well. On the other half the hair is wavy and grey, there is no make-up and the eye is wide open.
Grande Tête Profil Getty Images – Credit Sam Yeh
This sculptureis a piece to be experienced. Indeed from the side, Grande Tête is large and seems voluminous and round, but from the front it reveals itself narrow, flat and almost sharp, creating a strong visual effect !
Other major artworks featured at Taidehalli are Niki de Saint Phalle’s infamous Autoportrait (1958-1959), a black Nana Lady Sings The Blues (1965), an homage to R&B legend Billie Holiday, and Le Pendu or The Hanged Man (1988) from the Tarot Garden series.
Pictures from the opening night
We hope you visit Niki at Taidehalli before November, 20th 2016 and share your thoughts and pictures online !
We would like to thank the Taidehalli Museum staff and guests, curators Camille Morineau and Satu Metsola as well as MAMAC Nice, Galerie GP&N Vallois and private lenders for their generous help in organizing this beautiful exhibition.
In 1980, the Peter Stuyvesant Foundation made an original proposal to Niki de Saint Phalle: devise a design for the exterior of a twin-engine airplane, the Piper Aerostar 602 P, that was to be exhibited at Le Salon du Bourget in France in 1981. The artist accepted and first painted a 32 by 31 by 25 cm model of the plane.
She created a design in which some blue arabesques crawl along the wings, her painted flower elements blossom below the cabin and a big red nose finishes the front end of the fuselage. She also designed original and colorful outfits for the pilots.
C.S.E Aviation Ltd workers, in Oxford, applying the final touch to the Piper 602 P – Actuel, circa June 1981
Because she was allergic to tobacco smoke, she added, under the plane’s belly, the logo “no smoking” as a mischievous nod to the famous cigarette manufacturer, sponsor of the initiative.
On June 6 of 1981, the aircraft soared in the air for the first transatlantic, Paris-NewYork-Paris, air race with the French pilot Jean-Pierre Chauzit at the helm. The race lasted 3 days, 17 nations were in competition flying with single and twin-engined planes. The race was organized by the Aéroclub de France as a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first East West Atlantic Crossing by the French pilots, Costes and Bellonte (towards the prevailing winds).
"Believe it or not this airborne psychedelic wonder will be
flying from France to Connecticut and back this week-end
as an entry in the first transatlantic air race."
Quote from the New York Post on June 6, 1981
The Piper Aerostar 602 P, Le Figaro Magazine on June, 5th 1981
The Piper Aerostar 602 P painted by Niki de Saint Phalle was the most modern airplane in competition and arrived brilliantly in second position. The artist was at Salon du Bourget to witness its arrival.
Few other artists were invited to paint planes before and after Niki de Saint Phalle.
Like Alexander Calder, who was commissioned by the Braniff International Airways to paint two airplanes in 1973 and in 1975, one for South America in his signature red, blue, and yellow geometric shapes, and another for the United States in wavy red and blue swirls to celebrate the bicentennial of the Independence Day. Calder’s preparation models were shown at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2010.
American artist Alexander Calder (1898 – 1976) paints the fuselage of a Boeing 727291 passenger plane as a commission from Braniff International Airways, Dallas, Texas, 1975. Getty Images – Credit Camerique
In 1989, Keith Haring, contemporary artist alongside Niki de Saint Phalle, was asked to paint a gigantic banner for an airship to be flown over Paris as part of Galerie Celeste, a project with Soviet painter Eric Bulatov commemorating the bicentennial of the French Revolution.
Keith Haring photographed by Tseng Kwong Chi, Paris environs, France, 1989
Finally the latest spectacular example of painted airplane, is the one realized by Brazilian twins brother artists Osgemeos in 2014. They entirely customized the outside of a Boeing 737, aimed to transport the Brazilian Football Team during the last World Cup. They covered it with dozens of portraits, meant to represent the diversity of Brazil. They were rendered in artists’ signature style: yellowish-skinned figures with elongated faces and quirky outfits. Watch the whole process of painting the plane here.
Can you think about other examples of Flying Works Of Art? Share them with us on Twitter @NikiCAFondation!
50 years ago, HON, Niki de Saint Phalle’s first accessible sculpture, was inaugurated in Sweden at the Moderna Museet of Stockholm under the watchful eye of Pontus Hulten, director of the museum.
In 1966, Moderna Museet was the most innovative art center in Europe, and very likely in the world. Open from noon to 10 pm, accessible to blue collar workers, with a 27-year old visitor on average, it included a restaurant and a garden where you could drink coffee or beer in between two exhibitions. Back then avant-guard concerts, conference talks or Rauschenberg’s happenings were already part of the programmation like we are used to see today, at high profile cultural institutions. Later the same year, Claes Oldenburg would take over the space for his solo exhibition.
Conception of the HON
In a video interview, Pontus Hulten relates the conception process of HON. With a giggle he says : it was quite an experiment. For almost four years he hoped to organize an exhibition created on-site. Therefore, he spontaneously invited three international artists and friends to create an in-situ installation to be shown over the summer: Niki de Saint Phalle (French), Jean Tinguely (Suisse) and Per Olof Ultvedt (Swedish). In the same interview, Pet Olof Ultvedt reports: In 1966 we wanted to make big things, build castles and animate them! Niki was fascinated by Facteur Cheval’s castle in France and she wrote a long letter describing what we would do to build a castle inside the museum, full of life and animation.
On April 28th of 1966, Saint Phalle and Tinguely arrived in Stockholm. Hulten and Ultvedt went to pick them up at the airport and the discussions about what to do started right away. An Opera? A mechanical theater? A rite of passage made of twelve stations with a religious inspiration? Consensus was nowhere to be found among the crew, and after a day of unproductive discussions, doubt and anxiety crept in. The crew was so discouraged about not finding the right idea, they considered the alternative of giving up and flying to Russia!
On the second day, in the car, Hulten threw up the idea of making a giant “nana” similar in type to Niki de Saint Phalle’s earlier ones. All at once they embraced the idea! At the same moment Ultvedt names her: “HON”, SHE in Swedish.
Back to the Museum, in an entirely transformed atmosphere, the dimensions of HON were discussed and Tinguely drew up the well-know preliminary outlines of this gigantic project!
We got going already the next day and it went very fast. Jean already figured a basic idea about of how to do it… It had to be built with rebar, covered with chicken wire and glued fabric on top, and then painted. That was a major step to know how to proceed… And it went very fast – remembers Pontus Hulten in the same interview.
Indeed, it went very fast, the three artists with the help of five assistants worked for 40 days almost day and night to build a 82 feet long, 30 feet wide and 6 tons heavy sculpture!
HON’s construction went through four stages, as it is described in the catalogue of 1966:
The Iron Age (10 days) when her rebar skeleton was constructed. At that moment, Jean Tinguely discovered that a dish-washer in the restaurant of the Museum, is a Swiss art student, Rico Weber, who is hired on the spot. With this a life-long friendship and collaboration started.
Then, to mark the beginning of a new period, the team bought new white working clothes and entered the Glue Age (7 days). Carpenter’s glue is boiled for days, all day, 20-30 liters at a time, to fix the fabric sheets on HON’s armature. The odor of the glue made from animals’ bones smelled godawful.
We decided nobody would see what we were up to so we set up a temporary wall… The sheet were brown-pink-grayish, it looked so awful. That lady lying there. Stretched out, dirty and ghastly. So nobody wanted to go in there at all. Then she started to crack, when the sheets dried, they stretched and cracked in large, horrible rifts and I thought : My god how will this end ? Pontus Hulten
The original hands and feet were rejected, they were far too realistic to suit a nana. Look !
And then started the Black Age (9 days), time to paint the outside in bright colors and the inside all in black in stark contrast. Despite some technical difficulties – masses of cracks to repair and repaint in addition to many sleepless nights – they succeeded to transform the HON into a beautiful lady. In the middle of it, on May 21th, Pontus and Jean flew to the Monte-Carlo Rally to escape just for a day.
On May 24th, the era of furnishing begun. The list of things which were brought into HON was as long as surprising: a coin telephone, a love-seat sofa, a cinema for twelve people, a bar, a plastic pool, a museum of fake paintings, an automatic sandwiches vendor, two machines of Tinguely, an installation of Per Olof Ultvedt, a slide for children… just to name a few.
Watch this 3 minutes movie to follow HON’s construction here :
In the three months of her life, HON welcomed 100 000 people of all ages and from all around the word. It triggered a wide range of reactions among the public and the Press, from intense aggressiveness to ecstatic enthusiasm. Here is a cloud of words and adjectives HON was compared to in international newspapers:
A plane, a whale, a church, an Easter Egg, a factory, a cathedral a zeppelin, a whore, Mama, a fertility Goddess,
a Tower of Babel, a return to the womb, an amusement park,
Coney Island, Luna Park, Noah’s Arch, Sophia Mosque,
Venus of Willendorf, a dilated hatcher, an adult fun house,
a female Gulliver, Bibendum - the jolly Michelin rubber man,
gargantuan, pharaonic, colossus, a mammoth construction,
the most enormous woman in waiting with the exception of
the Statue of Liberty in the world today
It was a sensation, but the day after the opening we had no press. We had a press showing, but nothing was published in the newspapers. Because nobody knew what to think or say … – Pontus Hulten
But even if the HON was the talk of the town, very few journalists expressed an artistic opinion.The articles were mostly descriptive.
Some of them underlined the poetic allusions made to the organs of the human body. The milk-bar was in one breast, waste was disposed of down a chute into Tinguely’s formidable glass-breaking machine below – the whole thing was felt to allude to the digestive process. A gold-fish pond occupied the site of the womb and this required no commentary. Ultvedt’s heart was not simply a flapping, rocking, pumping shape; but a man could be found in HON’s heart.
It is impossible to say if these allusions were intentional. The very fact that it was possible to take practically every shape as a poetic symbol was the best evidence of the idea’s inherent strength. HON transformed a very random idea occurring on the inside into something new, giving it a meaning that it would never have had outside of the sculpture.
HON was, therefore, really a “cathedral”, since in a cathedral, the placement of individual parts in a whole creates a transformed concept.
What’s left today ?
Right after the show, at the end of August 1966, HON was destroyed and only her head was kept, which is still today part of the Moderna Museet’s permanent collection. Other small pieces were glued to the limited edition catalogues and sold.
Courtesy of Moderna Museet, Stockholm
But that’s not it : at a time when the Grand Palais invites an international artist to invest and transfer its giant Nef, Monumenta, into a new and immersive environment, every two years, sometimes with more or less success given the size of the space. When Yayoi Kushama’s Infinity Room is touring around the world. When the Rain Room tickets are sold out months in advance or when Banksy’s Dismaland created a media landslide, we can easily say that 50 years after HON, the public is still craving for immersive and gigantic art projects and rare are the artists who can pull off such an amount of work, even with a crew. Those who experienced Kushama or Kapoor environments know how strong the amazement is and how long it lasts. There are some art installations which live forever in the viewer’s minds.
HON was such a great achievement in terms of reflection, courage and team work ! No wonder she was built at the most innovative place of the time and let’s just say we regret not having seen it, too.
All images excerpt from “HON: en historia” – catalogue of the exhibition, 1966 – Photos of Hans Hammarskiöld.
On May 26th 2016, the Tarot Garden‘s oldest guardian: Ugo Celletti, passed away at the age of 87.
Ugo Celletti was the second crew member helping Niki de Saint Phalle to create her monumental sculpture garden. He started in 1979, at the age of 50 : a postman in his town in the morning, a worker at the Garden by the afternoon. He’d discovered a passion for mosaic work, and adorned many of the sculptures with mirror, glass and customized ceramics.
His love for the garden and its visual beauty drove Ugo Celletti to work there for 36 years and to encourage his nephews to join the adventure. Some of his family members are still maintaining the Tarot Garden today. Thank you, Ugo.
La Mort n’existe pas. Life is eternal.
Watch Ugo Celletti apply glass mosaic to the Empress.
The relationship between Niki de Saint Phalle and Fashion is strong and significant. She expressed herself through Fashion, she had a vision and designers believed in her sense of style and advice, like Marc Bohan, at the time, the designer for Dior.
At 20, she was a model, on the covers of Life and Vogue magazines. At 30, at the beginning of her artistic career, she said to the NYC Herald Tribune : […] I don’t mind wearing high heeled boots or a flower in my hair if I am in the mood. I think clothes should make a statement. Mine do. They’re the way I feel.
Niki de Saint Phalle in Paris by 1965 – photo: Jill Krementz
A year later, Niki de Saint Phalle’s solo show opening of “Les Nanas” at Galerie Iolas in Paris was memorable not only for the joyful feminine figures made of chicken wire, fabric and yarn but for the real women in the room, too! In an article published by Women’s Wear Daily on March 30, 1966, it is described in detail every extravagant outfits wore by the Paris’ It girls, among them, of course, Niki!
Niki de Saint Phalle has always been a great source of inspiration for artists: painters, sculptors, jewelers… And again, very recently, we noticed how much fashion designers today keep borrowing her graphic elements and color palette to nourish their creations.
A month ago, during New York Fashion Week 2016, Japanese designer, Anna Sui incorporated Saint Phalle‘s Nanas in dresses and capes, as parts of her latest ready-to-wear collection.
NYC – FEBRUARY 17: Anna Sui collection – New York Fashion Week Fall 2016 – Photo by Luca Tombolini
Also, Libertine American designer, Johnson Hartig, dipped into Niki de Saint Phalle’s graphic repertoire for his latest creations. The open-hand, the heart and the sun symbols, just to name a few, are distinctive reacquiring elements from Saint Phalle’s alphabet that Hartig incorporated to dresses.
“I studied painting and drawing in school so art has always been near and dear. Niki de Saint Phalle, and the Tarot Garden Tuscany were big inspirations” told Hartig to Fashion Times reporters, backstage after the show.
NYC – FEBRUARY 15: A model walks the runway wearing Libertine
Fall 2016 during New York Fashion Week – Photo by Neilson Barnard
Two weeks later, on the first day of Paris Fashion Week 2016, Dutch designer Liselore Frownijn, using Niki de Saint Phalle as a muse, paid homage to strong and artistic women with her collection ‘Let’s Hear It For The Lions’. The collection was made of voluminous tunics, curved bomber jackets and wide-legged trousers.
PARIS – MARCH, 1: Liselore Frown collection – Paris Fashion Week Fall 2016
Photo by Filep Motwary
‘They’re very naïvely done in a bold way with primary colors, bold shapes, round volumes, polka dots. It’s a very optimistic way of creating and I wanted to catch this energy that I got from her (Saint Phalle’s) work in the collection,’ says Frowijn.
Since 2015 the French stylist, Axelle Migé, behind the luxury brand Coppelia Pique, has created two collections inspired by Niki de Saint Phalle! Through her dresses she gives life to Tir, Nanas, Tarot Garden and, expressed in her own way, the macabre tension surrounding La Mariée.
On February 13th, a new retrospective of Niki de Saint Phalle’s artworks opened at ARKEN Museum of Modern Art in Copenhagen, and is on view until July 31st. The ARKEN website provides detailed information on the exhibition with multimedia resources.
With its innovative design the entrance of the exhibition is reminiscent of Hon built at the Moderna Museet of Stockholm in 1966. A large portrait of Saint Phalle, excerpt of her film Daddy, “welcomes” visitors with a pointed rifle.
Niki de Saint Phalle at ARKEN – Instagram photo by agnew
Some highlights of the exhibitions feature L’Accouchement Rose (Pink Birth) and Marilyn both from 1964. Niki de Saint Phalle created this figurative assemblage of Marilyn Monroe two years after the actress’s death, and almost at the same time Warhol made pop prints her smiling portrait. But here, instead of the familiar pin-up, Saint Phalle assembled a papier-collé bust with dramatic make-up under blonde hair. A wild boar climbs between flowers on her shoulder, one of her breast is covered with fans and baby dolls. Her hand is cut off, and instead there is a dense colony of small pink bananas like maggots on rotten meat. The sculpture expresses the martyred emotions of a female icon behind the colorful picture that society created.
Marilyn by Niki de Saint Phalle – Instagram photo by eilamabburg
In a room dedicated to Tirs (Shooting paintings), cathedrals, altars and even the Venus of Milo are bleeding colors. They are the violent remains of an execution where nobody dies. Niki de Saint Phalle described her process: “[…] I was shooting at my own violence and the VIOLENCE of the times. By shooting at my own violence, I no longer had to carry it inside of me like a burden. It was a great therapy for me.” Two pieces displayed in this room are fragments of an impressive Tir tableau Saint Phalle shot at Galerie Køpcke in Copenhagen in 1961. They are being shown to public for the very first time.
Tir (fragment de tableau Galerie Køpcke), 1961.
Photo: ARKEN Museum of Modern Art
Tir (fragment de tableau Galerie Køpcke), 1961.
Photo: Leclerc Maison de Ventes
Furthermore, many of Saint Phalle’s architectural projects and models are on featured. Le Palais (Auberge) is a large model from NCAF collection, recently restored to be shown in this extraordinary exhibition. Le Palais envisions an artist community in Saint Phalle’s unmistakable style with undulating archways, playful decorations and colorful figures.
We hope you visit Niki at ARKEN and share your thoughts and pictures online #NikiPower !
We would like to thank the ARKEN Museum staff and guests, curators Camille Morineau and Lucia Pesapane, as well as Galerie GP&N Vallois and private lenders for their generous help in organizing this beautiful show.
August 4th marks the opening of a new exhibition at Nohra Haime Gallery, New York which showcases a series of large, colorful prints by artist Niki de Saint Phalle.
“CALIFORNIAN DIARY is a collection of silkscreens that compose a visual diary of Saint Phalle’s life and work during her first year in California. [They] consist of personal designs and drawings of figures and landscapes accompanied by entries and notes about her experiences,” the gallery informs.
The artist’s connection to California started in the 1960s with a first visit with Swiss kinetic artist Jean Tinguely, and lasted well throughout her career. In 1962 Saint Phalle shot up enormous Tir Tableaus on Sunset Boulevard and in Malibu’s scenic hills. 1983 saw an installation on San Diego’s UC campus: Sun God, which quickly became a favorite among the students. Ten years later Saint Phalle moved to La Jolla for her health and settled there until her death in 2002. California was a constant source of inspiration for the artist. It re-awakened her fervor to create which is reflected in her later œuvre with expansive projects like Gila (1996), Coming Together (2001) and Queen Califia’s Magical Circle (1999-2003).
The “open conversations” with her diary, supposedly intimate and secret, candidly capture her contemplations about her new surroundings, landscapes, people, and life itself.
what is Time?
TIME PAST, TIME PRESENT, TIME FUTURE
TIME UNKNOWN. All the other times I don’t know about?
ORDER / CHAOS (I am chaos) ?
WHICH CAME FIRST?
Do they exist side by side??
I want to Control and Explain instead of just SURRENDERING to the MYSTERY
All MY CREATIVE MOMENTS come out of CHAOS.
FIREWORKS FLAMING RAINBOW”
The exhibition is on view until September 12th. An opening reception is scheduled for Tuesday, August 4th from 6 – 8 pm.
A current exhibition at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, MN aims to explore visually and historically what curators Darcie Alexander and Bartholomew Ryan term as “International Pop”. Their narrative includes art created from the late 50’s into the 1970s in Latin America, Europe and Japan beyond the mainstream conception of Pop Art being American or British. Emerging from the criticism on mass culture and multiples, Pop Art has become a staple in the world of contemporary art that begs re-evaluation on a larger scale.
Being a prominent member of the French artist group Nouveau Réalistes (New Realists), Niki de Saint Phalle’s work Untitled from Edition MAT 64 has been included in the discussion.
On this occasion, author and scholar Nicole Woods published a detailed thesis on the subject after thorough research that included a visit to the NCAF Archives last year. Besides an overview of Saint Phalle’s “shooting events” of the early 1960’s, Woods focuses on the Edition MAT as part of the concept of viewer participation, chance and multiples in the creation of art. Not much has been discussed on topic of the Edition MAT in English publications, therefore it was enlightening to see the process of creating Untitled from Edition MAT 64 by local artist Hollis MacDonald and collector Edgar Nash.
Woods writes: “In its combination of passion and passivity, its inherent performative element, and its experimentation with unusual forms of making (here, guns and bullets carry out much of the artist labor), Saint Phalle’s Untitled from Edition MAT 64 bridges the artist/participant divide by shifting the terms of art practice vis-à-vis the very trope and paradox of creative destruction. […] Set in the context of Saint Phalle’s larger oeuvre, Untitled from Edition MAT 64 can be read both as a transposition of a personal medium of catharsis, and also, through the lens of its multiplication, as an object whose possibility and potentiality exist unmediated by the artist herself.”
NH Galeria opened a show of sculptures and prints in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia last weekend under direction of Nohra Haime Gallery, New York. The exhibition will be on display until March 8th, 2015.
In their announcement the gallery explains:
“Niki de Saint Phalle: Sculpture and Prints presents the work of the last period of one of the most preeminent female artists. Through this exhibition, we contemplate the artistic insight and the social and cultural concerns of Saint Phalle about contributing to a better world.
Through a fresh and perceptive language, and visually connected to pop culture and New Realism, Saint Phalle proposed subjects that would be essential to the shaping of our contemporary world. Some of the subjects presented by the artist’s witty imagery are women’s role in society and Art History, the peace-violence antithesis, and cultural diversity.
California Nana Vase, 2000 is one of her Nanas, voluptuous female figures that serve to represent the ideal archetype for women in modern society, and can be seen in cities and museums all over the world. Her personal world of imaginative creatures that celebrate vital diversity have their references in myths, astronomy and nature; such is the case of Mandala (Blue and Green), 1997. And in works such as Do You Like my New Dress (Brown) (Remembering), 1997, we see her clever analysis about the pressure of our modern world in its concern for appearance, fashion and female sex, a consequence of her involvement in the feminist movement and her readings of Simone de Beauvoir.”
Benjamin Sutton recently visited Art Basel Miami and discovered Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tirs (Shooting Paintings) at the booth of prominent French Galerie Georges-Philippe and Nathalie Vallois. The gallery brought their exhibition ‘Niki de Saint Phalle: En Joue! Assemblages and Tirs (1960–1964)’ to Miami after its debut one year ago in Paris. Accompanying it is a comprehensive and extraordinary catalogue available at the gallery.
In his blog “HYPERALLERGENIC”, Sutton reviews the exhibited works with beautiful detail images. He writes: “The exhibition’s most colorful piece, “Tir (Fragment de Dracula II)” (1961), for instance, looks like a riotous drip painting from afar. But on closer inspection one can clearly see where the artist and her cohorts (including the influential critic Pierre Restany) shot through balloons full of paint with a rifle. The work’s surface is pockmarked with eruptions of color like miniature volcanoes. Unlike the smoothed lines and saturated hues of her best known works, this piece and others on view here bear witness to an unexpected belief in the creative potential of destruction.” Learn More.