A visionary feminist and activist artist, Niki de Saint Phalle is known for her large sculptures of Nanas, voluptuous female figures. Colorful, patterned, and crafted in a variety of shapes and sizes, these characters celebrate the artist’s own feminist spirit. At the same time, these pieces hold darker secrets that reflect the acceptance of one’s body and anxieties of being a woman.
MoMA PS1 will host the first New York museum exhibition of the artist's work. Titled Niki de Saint Phalle - Structures for Life, the show will feature over 100 works that highlight de Saint Phalle’s interdisciplinary approach and engagement with pressing social and political issues. The exhibition will include sculptures, prints, drawings, jewelry, and archival material, created from the 1970s until the artist’s death.
Throughout her multifaceted career, Niki de Saint Phalle paired bold, jubilant, and cartoonish feminine forms with dark and disturbing material. Early in her practice, she pushed against the accepted artistic practices, creating work that used assemblage and performative modes of production. Continually disrupting long-held conventions in art, she created pieces that were highly expressive, visually bold, and often playful.
Collaboration and artistic dialogue were central to her practice, at a time when the brand of the individual artist "genius" was most heavily promoted in the art world. Since the late 1960s, de Saint Phalle starting making large-scale sculptures, which led to an expansion of her practice into architectural projects, sculpture gardens, books, prints, films, theater sets, clothing, jewelry, and, famously, her own perfume.
The exhibition at MoMA will highlight Niki de Saint Phalle’s interdisciplinary approach and engagement with key social and political issues, focusing on works that she created to transform environments, individuals, and society. Throughout her practice, de Saint Phalle addressed subjects that ranged from women’s rights to climate change and HIV/AIDS awareness.
Among works on view are AIDS: You Can’t Catch It Holding Hands from 1986, an illustrated book written in collaboration with Dr. Silvio Barandun that aimed at destigmatizing the disease. Central to the show is the examination of de Saint Phalle’s large-scale outdoor sculptures and architectural projects, such as three houses built for Rainer von Diez between 1969 and 1971; Queen Califia’s Magical Circle, a sculpture park in Escondido, CA; the monumental sculpture Le Cyclop in Milly-la-Forêt, France; Golem, a playground in Jerusalem; Noah’s Ark sculpture park in Jerusalem; and Le Dragon de Knokke, a children’s playhouse in Belgium.
The display will also include photographs and drawings of her central life project Tarot Garden, a massive architectural park in Italy. Based on the Major Arcana of the tarot deck, the garden and its structures allow for moments of interaction and reflection that underscore Saint Phalle’s use of art to alter perception.
Following a months-long closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Museum of Modern Art reopened to public on August 27. Originally scheduled for 2020, the exhibition Niki de Saint Phalle - Structures for Life will be on view at MoMA PS1 in New York from March 11 through August 2021. It is organized by Ruba Katrib, Curator, MoMA PS1
Featured images: Niki de Saint Phalle - Tarot Garden, Garavicchio, Italy © 2019 FONDAZIONE IL GIARDINO DEI TAROCCHI. Photo: Peter Granser; Niki de Saint Phalle - Interior view of Empress, Tarot Garden, Garavicchio, Italy © 2019 FONDAZIONE IL GIARDINO DEI TAROCCHI. Photo: Peter Granser. All images courtesy MoMA.