Niki de Saint Phalle was a French-American sculptor, painter and filmmaker known for her outspoken political views on social issues. Many of her easily recognizable sculptures can be found around the world – for free! Her sculptures brighten and liven up many public spaces and Singulart selected a few for this article to highlight the artist’s life work.
About Niki de Saint Phalle
Born on October 29, 1930 just outside of Paris, Niki’s family moved to New York City where she spent most of her childhood. However, Niki de Saint Phalle returned to settle in Paris, where she established herself as an artist as part of the Nouveau Réalisme movement alongside artists like Yves Klein, Arman and of course Tinguely – whom she married later on. The 60s turned out to be the years of Niki de Saint Phalle’s breakthrough in her career as she catapulted herself to a position of notoriety amongst artistic circles.
Charlotte Jansen described her work in an article as:
Lively, chromatic, female: Niki de Saint Phalle’s works are instantly recognizable. The French-born, American-raised artist is one of the most significant female and feminist artists of the 20th century, and one of the few to receive recognition in the male-dominated art world during her lifetime.
Her work has often shocked (her use of guns and knives) and/or inspired (the Nanas from the mid sixties reflecting the feminist movement of the time). Overall, her colorful work is loved by many and displayed not only in museums, but often outside in public spaces.
Niki de Saint Phalle’s Artworks in Public Spaces
Stravinsky Fountain (1982), Paris, France
On the Place Stravinsky right next to the Centre Pompidou in Paris, one can admire this artwork. The whimsical public fountain showcases sixteen works of sculpture that represent the works of the composer Igor Stravinsky. There are sculptures that move and spray water, mirroring the melodies of the music. The black mechanical pieces of Jean Tinguely juxtapose beautifully the colorful works of Niki de Saint Phalle.
Golem (1971), Kiryat Hayovel, Jerusalem
This sculpture created by Niki de Saint Phalle stands on a playground in Jerusalem, with its tongues functioning as slides for children. It is a playful interpretation of the Golem (also known as Hamifletzt or “the monster”). The sculpture plays both with its monstrous quality and its connection to creation and birth. The figure or creature comes from a local story where the Golem was created to save a community from intruders.
The Fantastic Paradise (1967) – Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden
Another collaboration with then husband Jean Tinguely, The Fantastic Paradise was part of the Universal Expo 1967 in Montreal, Canada for the French Pavilion. The Theme was “Life confronted with the forces of Destruction“. Tinguely’s sharp machines symbolically attacked the round and colorful sculptures of Niki de Saint Phalle. The critics were torn, some found it the single most impressive sculptures of the Expo 67, others felt appalled by the machines that essentially abused Niki’s sculptures.
Pontus Hulten, Director of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm and longtime friend, offered a solution as to what to do with the installation. The two artists donated it to the Moderna Museet in exchange of its life-long conservancy and display in the Swedish Capital.
Loch Ness Monster (1992) – MAMAC, Nice, France
This sculpture in front of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nice was inaugurated by the artist herself in 2001 to commemorate the donation of 190 of her artworks to the museum.
The sculpture itself is part of a series entitled “The Wounded Animals” that also includes other ceramic animals. Together with Jean Tinguely, they equipped the monster with an hydraulic circuit allowing him to spit water.
Poet and His Muse (1998) – Mingei International Museum, Balboa Park, San Diego, USA
At the Mingei International Museum in San Diego, California, a few of Niki’s works are displayed, such as the Nikigator as well as the Poet and His Muse.
Mingei means “Art of the People” and Niki de Saint Phalle’s work definitely fits within this category. Not only are her sculptures meant to be touched, you can often climb on/into them evoking an engagement between the viewer and the sculpture itself.
Amorous Bird Fountain / Lifesaver Fountain (1989-1993), Duisburg, Germany
This five meter tall bird stands on a two meter high fountain base and has its home in Duisburg, Germany where he became an unofficial heraldic animal. Local art experts described it as:
“Niki de Saint Phalle created the fabulous, eagle-like bird to which a female figure clings. Standing upright with outstretched arms, he embodies the ancient symbol of heaven associated with the bird. Its blaze of color and the cascades falling from its wings in a wide arc underline the majestic appearance of the mythical creature turning rhythmically to the left and right.“
Guardian Angel (1997), Zurich Main Station, Switzerland
This gigantic, eleven meter tall “Nana” in the shape of a guardian angel can be found in the main station in Zurich, where she watches over travellers. The artist supervised the installation in ’97 personally.
Niki de Saint Phalle became famous for her Nanas (tall well-shaped women with tiny heads) and can be found all over the world. Since the artist used watercolors, the angel can only be carefully cleaned with a duster and air spray, which is done every three weeks.