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Niki de Saint Phalle

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Niki de Saint Phalle

*  1930 Neuilly-sur-Seine
† 2002 San Diego/Kalifornien


The French-Swiss artist Niki de Saint Phalle (actually Cathérine Marie-Agnès Fal de Saint-Phalle), was born in Neuilly-sur-Seine on October 29, 1930. She grows up in the USA, from 1936 to 1945 she attends the school of the monastery Sacré-Coeur in New York. At the age of 18 she marries the American writer Harry Matthews, with whom she has two children, however, she divorces him after a mental breakdown. Around 1951 she returns to France where she lives in Paris. Around 1955 she meets the object artist Jean Tinguely and comes in contact with the artist group of the "Nouveau Réalisme", for instance with Arman, César, François Dufrêne, Raymond Hains, Yves Klein, Martial Raysse, Mimmo Rotella, Daniel Spoerri and Villeglé, and later Gérard Deschamps and Christo.
She begins to make her first own artistic works as of 1953, as an autodidact she works up her own mental problems in them. Around 1955 she comes up with the idea of the "Shooting Pictures", with which Niki de Saint Phalle causes a commotion: She shoots a gun at a canvas to which she has attached bags with paint on a relief-like surface of smoothing cement, the bags burst and the paint splashes onto the image carrier. "In 1961 I shot dad, all men, important men, fat men, men, my brother, society, church, the convent, school, my family, my mother ...".
As of 1960 she lives together with Jean Tinguely, they marry in 1971. As of 1964 she starts dealing with the role of women in her very own way, creating the voluptuous and colorful "Nana" figures. They consist of wool, yarn and paper-mâché over wire skeletons, later they are made of polyester and come in gaudy colors and with patterns. She makes a 29 meter long reclining walkable Nana figure with the vagina as the entrance for the Moderna Museet in Stockholm in 1966.
Her Nanas are first shown in an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1968, numerous exhibitions follow. In 1979 Niki de Saint Phalle begins working on the "Tarot-Garden" in the Tuscan town of Capalbio - a vast garden, with colorful and imaginative figures, Nanas, enchanted grottos and poetic murals. In 1982 she and Jean Tinguely work on the "Strawinski Fountain" in front of the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
Due to years of exposure to polyester, synthetic resin, dust and poisonous vapors, she falls ill with respiratory problems. Acting upon the advice of her doctors, she moves to San Diego in California in 1994, mainly because of the mild climate. She works on her last large series of works, a playful homage to Jean Tinguely's mobile sculptures, the "Exploding Pictures".
Niki de Saint Phalle dies in San Diego on May 21, 2002.