Niki de Saint Phalle

Room 5

Visit MAMAC and discover on two floors and nearly 2,500 m², a selection of more than 200 works of art from the collection.
Every year MAMAC completely renews the top floor and offers new experiences in its key rooms dedicated to Niki de Saint Phalle, Yves Klein and the international POP.
The collection is on the move for the pleasure of exploration and new dialogues.

“In the history of art, Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002) is an exception. Few women artists enjoy the same level of recognition from a wide public as she did. She made her name and her destiny through the freedom of her expression, the iconoclasm of her gestures and the excessiveness of her projects. However, she has long been the subject of misunderstandings, confined to her iconic “Nanas”, her impassioned statements and her fierce sense of adornment, she was shunned by a fringe of male critics for her “feminine” work and her comments on matriarchy, and by feminist art historians on the pretext of a possible complicity with sexist stereotypes. Her work is finally reconsidered today through all its richness and complexity; considered for its indisputable and unique contribution to a history of forms and gestures; measured by her commitment and attention to the troubles and struggles of her time.

MAMAC owns one of the three reference collections in the world of the Franco-American artist’s work, from her first paintings and assemblages of the late 1950s, the very first gunshot paintings of the early 1960s, the iconic “nanas” and brides, to her prolific prints”.
Hélène Guenin

Niki de Saint Phalle, Black is different, 1994 ; Niki de Saint Phalle, Nana noire upside down, 1965-1966, collection MAMAC, Nice, Donation de l’artiste en 2001, © Niki Charitable Art Foundation / Adagp, Paris, 2020

Catherine Marie-Agnès Fal de Saint Phalle was born on 29 October 1930 in Neuilly-sur-Seine. She was the second of five children born to Jeanne Jacqueline (née Harper) and André Marie Fal de Saint Phalle, originally from a family of French bankers. The Wall Street Crash had a number of consequences on the family business and led them to move to the United States. Niki was then educated in American schools, regularly spending her summer holidays in France.
This dual sense of belonging is a symbol of the artistic links existing between France and the United States from the early 1960’s. This was exemplified by the presence in Paris of internationally renowned artists such as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, who were invited to exhibit in well-known Parisian galleries, including those of Ileana Sonnaben, and museums such as the City of Paris Museum of Modern Art.

Without any formal artistic education other than her own instinct and a certainty that it was her destiny, Niki de Saint Phalle – who began painting her mental universe filled with the fantastic in a manner inherited from Matisse, Ensor, de Dubuffet and Pollock – created assemblages, collecting all sorts of small objects and debris. She perfected these ideas in her monumental reliefs and in her action-tirs, which, by their very nature convinced critic Pierre Restany of the absolute necessity to include them in the group of “Nouveaux Réalistes”.
Developing an approach that involved a sort of release, reflecting her need to expel a certain violence, Niki de Saint Phalle began working on sculptures in 1963. From bas-relief assemblages, she moved to 3D creations with her first Nanas in 1964. These sculptures, in bold colours and with generous curves, symbolised the modern woman, liberated from traditions. The Nanas are black, yellow and pink, they are multiracial to reflect the world.

Niki de Saint Phalle, Tir, séance 26 juin 1961, 1961, collection MAMAC, Nice, Donation de l’artiste en 2001, © Niki Charitable Art Foundation / Adagp, Paris, 2020
Niki de Saint Phalle, Vénus, 1964, collection MAMAC, Nice, Donation de l’artiste en 2001 ; Niki de Saint Phalle, Erica, 1965, collection MAMAC, Nice, Donation de l’artiste en 2001, © Niki Charitable Art Foundation / Adagp, Paris, 2020
Niki de Saint Phalle, La mariée sous l’arbre, 1963-1964 collection MAMAC, Nice, Donation de l’artiste en 2001, Niki de Saint Phalle, Drôle de mort ou Gambrinus, 1963 ; niki de Saint Phalle, The children (Study for King Kong), 1963, collection MAMAC, Nice, Donation de l’artiste en 2001, © Niki Charitable Art Foundation / Adagp, Paris, 2020
Niki de Saint Phalle, Tir (fragment), 1962, collection MAMAC, Nice, Donation de l’artiste en 2001 ; Niki de Saint Phalle, Old master – Séance galerie J., 1961, collection MAMAC, Nice, Donation de l’artiste en 2001 ; Niki de Saint Phalle, Old master (non tiré), vers 1961, collection MAMAC, Nice, Donation de l’artiste en 2001 ; Niki de Saint Phalle, Tir au soulier, 1962, collection MAMAC, Nice, Donation de l’artiste en 2001, , © Niki Charitable Art Foundation / Adagp, Paris, 2020

She dedicated herself tirelessly over many years to the defence of cultural minorities and the integration of black populations into American society.

A year before her death in 2002, she donated many important works to the MAMAC in Nice, where she had spent almost a year in 1953, a gesture which demonstrated her generosity and her commitment to others.

Shooting paintings (Tirs)

With the help of Jean Tinguely, Niki de Saint Phalle set up twelve actions-tirs produced one after the other from 1961 to 1963. The majority were completed in Impasse Ronsin, Paris. Brancusi was staying there and Larry Rivers would come to live there in 1961. The rustic nature of the location, a sort of enclave of ill-defined land surrounded by fences and brick walls, offered a safe, albeit noisy, place to set up a shooting range. Niki would attach various objects to an old door, a wooden or plywood panel, depending on the specific composition. The artwork would begin completely blank, immaculate even, painted and repainted multiple times, if necessary.

The key to the multicoloured flows, which provided the assemblage of objects with cohesion, was the positioning of plastic bags in the upper part of the board, coated in plaster and filled with paint and all sorts of food products, from spaghetti to eggs, rice and tomatoes. The objects themselves came from a motley collection, inspired by the young New Realist artists she spent time with. We also find stuffed crocodiles, scorpions, pots, paint bucket lids, combs and tubes of lipstick… The relief would be propped against the wooden fence, ready for the artist, friends, enthusiasts and visitors to use a rifle or revolver to fire at the board.

The first shooting session was held on 12 February 1961 in Impasse Ronsin, and was attended by, amongst others, Pierre Restany and Jeannine Goldschmidt, photographers Harry Shunk and Kender, Hugh Weiss, and Vera and Danial Spoerri. Various other actions-tirs were completed outdoors as part of the exhibitions of public institutes.
On 13 July 1961, at the Roseland Abbey, the first Festival of “Nouveau Réalisme” was opened in Nice. Niki prepared a relief for the event, which many artists and guests took turns to shoot at. Once the work was complete, it was named Tir à Volonté.

Niki Charitable Art Foundation nikidesaintphalle.org

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