Niki de Saint Phalle

b. 1930 — d. 2002

The Niki Charitable Art Foundation

I used to think there was a need to provoke, to attack religion, and the generals. And then I understood that there is nothing more shocking than joy. — Niki de Saint Phalle



Tableaux Éclatés
Salon 94 89th Street

Niki de Saint Phalle

Niki de Saint Phalle: The 1980s and 1990s: Art Running Free
Les Abattoirs

Niki de Saint Phalle

Niki de Saint Phalle
Henie Onstad

Niki de Saint Phalle

Niki de Saint Phalle in the 1960s
Menil Collection

Niki de Saint Phalle

Structures for Life

Niki de Saint Phalle

Joy Revolution
Salon 94 89th Street

Niki de Saint Phalle

Le Paradis Fantastique | In collaboration with Jean Tinguely
Central Park

Niki de Saint Phalle

Les Nanas au Pouvoir
Stedelijk Museum

Niki de Saint Phalle


Niki de Saint Phalle surrounded by her sculptures painting Le monde, circa 1981. Photo by Laurent Codominas © 2010 Niki Charitable Art Foundation, All rights reserved.

Born 1930 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, Niki de Saint Phalle moved to the USA in 1933 and spent her childhood and youth in New York City. In 1952, Saint Phalle moved back to Paris and became immersed in French and ex-patriate artistic communities.

Her 1961 exhibition Feu à Volonté (Fire at Will), organized by art critic and cultural philosopher Pierre Restany at Galerie J, Paris, Saint Phalle showed for the first time her iconic Shooting Paintings. These works were made by firing a rifle at a primed canvas onto which bags of paint were affixed. As the shooting commenced, the punctured bags would release the colored paint. The resulting accidental-cum- automatic composition documents the activity of the various shooters who participated in the happening, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg included among them.

By the mid-1960s Saint Phalle worked less frequently on paintings, choosing instead to begin on a new series titled the Nanas. The title of this body of work draws on a slightly rude slang word for “woman” in French. Presented anew by a woman, the term was reapplied to important figurative sculptures—both fun and stately—depicting large, curvaceous women decorated with bright colors and motifs, oftentimes with limbs joyously—or frustratingly—raised. The largest and most famous of these sculptures is HON (1966), made for the Moderna Museet, Stockholm, in collaboration with artists Jean Tinguely (who would later become her second husband) and Per Olof Ultvedt. The reclining figure took up the entire exhibition hall and could be entered by visitors through a doorway between the large thighs.

Saint Phalle was one of only two women artists (the other being expressionist Joan Mitchell) to show with the influential Virginia Dwan Gallery in Los Angeles. Also in the American West, Saint Phalle assisted Jean Tinguely in his Study for an End of the World, No. 2 from 1962, a kinetic sculpture installed in the Nevada desert that was purposefully destroyed by explosion before a live audience. This work is considered to be one of the first Land Artworks: at that time, Saint Phalle wrote that she planned to create a large livable sculpture in the middle of the desert.

Her late projects took on an ever-more public dimension. In Tuscany, she built the great Tarot Garden sculpture park. The project was entirely self-funded: Saint Phalle sold large numbers of editioned works (and even a perfume bearing her name) in order to finance the project. Later, when invited to create a public sculpture for Jerusalem, she proposed a giant slide for all children to play in. When many of her friends and colleagues became gravely effected by HIV/AIDS, she wrote a book explaining to children what the disease was, what could be done to prevent it and how to help victims.

She died in 2002 in La Jolla, California.

Niki Charitable Art Foundation

The Tarot Garden



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Niki de Saint Phalle: Nothing More Shocking Than Joy
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The Pioneering Feminism of Niki de Saint Phalle
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The New Yorker

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Artist Niki de Saint Phalle Took Joy Seriously
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The Wall Street Journal

Late Artist Niki De Saint Phille Gets Her First Major American Survey
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How Niki de Saint Phalle’s Forward-Thinking Feminism Changed the Art World
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Niki Charitable Art Foundation
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The Brooklyn Rail

Feminist (R)evolution in Brooklyn: Reclaiming Women for Pop
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Huffington Post

Beautiful Monsters
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New Yorker

The Darkness Behind Niki de Saint Phalle’s Colorful Beauties
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Public Sculpture Comes to Times Square
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National Museum of Women in the Arts to turn D.C. corridor into sculpture alley
National Museum of Women in the Arts to turn D.C. corridor into sculpture alley

Washington Post