Niki de Saint Phalle, a committed “Nana”

Niki de Saint Phalle’s exhibition in Le Grand Palais (Paris) is worth the journey. The artist had a surprisingly contrasting life. She was born in France in 1930, but she left the country with her parents when she was a child and moved to New York. She felt she didn’t belong to any of those countries. She was raised by an upper class family, but behind this apparently happy rich family an unimaginable truth was lurked. Niki de Saint Phalle lived a nightmare with her dad who rapped her. When she became an adult, she first worked as a model. She could have kept on earning money easily thanks to her flattering body but instead, she tried to find a way to express her feelings. So she became an artist. At the age of 23, she learnt she was schizophrenic. As if her head couldn’t stand all those contrasts and her blurred identity. As if one body was not enough to live all those lives at once.

Niki de Saint Phalle realized her first paintings in the fifties, when she was 20. She was self-taught but she was inspired by many talented artists such as Jean Fautrier, Jean Dubuffey, Jackson Pollock or even Simone de Beauvoir with her book The Second Sex or by Elisabeth Badinter who wrote the book L’amour en plus : the history of maternal love. The art of Niki de Saint Phalle was a way to appease her totured mind but it was also a rebellion against all injustices in the world. She was fighting for equal rights between men and women and between white and black people.


I remember me saying “Is it her on the poster ?” when I first saw it. I didn’t know her face before visiting the exhibition, but the violence, especially with the gun, didn’t reflect the happiness we could find looking at the colors and the curves of some works like The
Stravinsky Fontain (1983) in Paris.

This poster actually makes a reference to Tir  which is a series of work of art for which Niki de Saint Phalle elaborated a new art technique. It consisted in creating a painting, to cover it with plaster and to put some eggs, tomatos, & inks inside. Then, she shot the paintings which liberated the colors.

Her art was like a therapy.

 “By shooting at myself, I was shooting at society and injustices. By shooting at my own violence, I was shooting at the violence of the times. […] That ritual enabled me to die by my own hand and to let myself be reborn”




After the Tir  period, she explored a new art form by creating which is now known as The Nana’s. This series of gargantuan sculptures are her hallmark. Through The Nana’s, Niki de Saint Phalle devoted herself to an in-depth reflection on the power of creation women born with, the place of women in society, and racial discrimination especially with Black Rosy  (1965). According to Niki de Saint Phalle, The Nana’s needed to be big so that they could be included in a society where men were (and maybe still are) kings.








As time passes, the art of Niki de Saint Phalle began bigger and bigger. Maybe it was a way to satisfy her desire of being a heroin.

 “I decided at a very early age to be an heroin. The main thing was that is was difficult, great, exciting !”

Inspired by Gaudi’s park in Barcelone, she decided to create huge architectural artworks such as Hon (1966) in Stockholm, The Golem (1972) monster park in Jerusalem, the Tarots Garden (1979) in Italie, Skull (1990), or The Grotto (2003) in Herrenhausen’s Grosser Garten which happened to be her last work.







Those enormous pieces were often put to good use.  For example, this giant phallus was built to make Aids prevention.


The exhibition takes place in Le Grand Palais (Paris) until February 2nd, 2015.  You must not miss it !


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