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Niki de Saint Phalle Biography:
Born Catherine Marie-Agnes Fal de Saint Phalle at
Neuilly-sur-Seine, second of five children of Jeanne Jacqueline, nee Harper and
Andre Marie de Saint Phalle, a banker
Her father looses all his money in the stock market crash of
1929. She and elder brother are separated from parents; they are sent to live
with paternal grandparents in the Nievre area of France for the next three
Family reunited in Greenwich, Connecticut. Summers are spent
in France with American maternal grandfather Donald Harper at his chateau "Filerval"
with gardens designed by Le Notre. Experience of two ways of life influence her
Family moves to New York city. Marie-Agnes, now called Niki,
starts school at the Convent of the Sacred Heart. Her first visual influences
are comic books, and visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Throughout her
youth she continually questions authority and is sent to a succession of
schools. At the Brearly School, she becomes interested in the work of Edgar
Allan Poe, Shakespeare, and the Greek tragedies. Discovers Russian authors;
passionately reads all the Dostoevsky. She acts in school plays and begins to
write her own poetry and plays. She is dismissed from Brearly for painting the
fig leaves red on the school's statuary. Graduates from a private all girl
school, Old Field School, Maryland.
Works as fashion model for Vogue, Life, Harper's Bazaar,
Elle, and other French and American magazines.
At eighteen elopes with Harry Mathews. Moves to Cambridge,
Massachusetts. Begins to paint experimenting with different media and style
while husband studies music at Harvard University. First child Laura is born
Moves to Paris and studies theatre and acting. Husband Harry
Mathews continues his studies in music, only later to become a writer, and a
founder of the literary magazine Locus Solus. They share the upbringing of their
daughter, and travel through France, Italy and Spain visiting museums and
cathedrals. She is impressed by the concept of a cathedral as a 'collective
ideal' realized through the efforts of many; this later becomes an important
aspect in her own work.
Hospitalized in Nice with nervous breakdown and paints while
recuperating from this crisis. She re-evaluates the direction of her life and
begins to seriously consider communicating through her art.
In Paris, she is introduced to American painter Hugh Weiss
who becomes a friend and mentor, encouraging her to remain painting in her
self-taught style. Moves to Deya, Majorca, Spain where son Philip was born in
may 1955. Reads Proust, visits Madrid and Barcelona where she discovers Antonio
Gaudi and is deeply affected by this experience which opens many possibilities
of the use of diverse material and object-trouves as structural elements in
sculpture and architecture. In particular, Gaudi's "Parc Guell" is a special
revelation that makes her determined to one day create her own garden of joy
combining mart and nature.
Returns to Paris. Meets sculptor Jean Tinguely and his wife Eva Aeppli for the
first time. Both are supportive of her ideas. Asks Tinguely to weld an armature
for her first sculpture.
Frequently visits the collections of the Louvre. Interested in the work of Paul
Klee, Henri Matisse, Henri Rousseau, and Pablo Picasso. Inspired by the postman,
Joseph Ferdinand Cheval's architecture "Le Palais Ideal", in Hauterives, France.
Lives in Lans-en-Vercors in the French Alps with family.
First solo exhibition of paintings in St. Gall, Switzerland in 1956. Paints and
explores various collage elements. Meets a number of contemporary writers
including John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch through Harry Mathews.
Introduced to contemporary art in exhibition at the Musee
d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris that includes works by Jackson Pollock,
Willem de Kooning, Raubert Raushenberg and Jasper Johns.
Seperates from husband. Children live with their father. Sets up studio and
concentrates solely on work. Assemblages take on an angry aspect-a new series
'target' paintings actually have darts thrown at them.
End of 1960 moves to 11 Impasse Rosin, Paris and lives and shares a studio with
Jean Tinguely; they will collaborate and assist each other on projects
throughout their long association. Constantin Brancusi is a neighbor at Impasse
Rosin. Through Tinguely, meets Pontus Hulten then director of the Moderna Museet,
Stockholm. Hulten includes her in major exhibitions organized at the time.
Through his foresight, the Moderna Museet will acquire pivotal pieces from
throughout her career to form the most comprehensive collection of her work.
Because of her bicultural background and the direction in her own art, she
becomes a kind of ambassador between the avant-gardes in France and the United
Expands on the 'target' paintings with a series of 'shooting'
paintings or tirs. It is through acts of destruction that these works are
created-the assemblages are shot with a pistol, rifle or cannon by herself or
others, producing spontaneous effects and the dispersion of colors. As they
evolve, the tirs become larger, more elaborate in concept and include elements
of spectacle and performance.
Pierre Restany, founder of the Nouveau Realistes, attends first public tir, and
invites her to become a member. Becomes involved in the ideas, festivals and
activities of this group which includes Arman, Cesar, Christo, Gerard Deschamps,
Francois Dufrene, Raymond Hains, Yves Klein, Martial Raysse, Mimmo Rotella,
Daniel Spoerri, Jean Tinguely, Jacques Villegle.
First solo exhibition in Paris at Galerie J with assemblages, tirs, and a public
shooting area. Exhibits in group shows in Europe and the United States. Becomes
friends with American artists staying in Paris including Robert Raushenberg,
Jasper Johns, Larry Rivers and his wife Clarice, and will participate in various
projects with them over the years.
She and Tinguely are introduced to Salvator Dali by Marcel Duchamp. Travels to
Spain with Tinguely for celebration honoring Dali, and they make a life-size
exploding bull with plaster, paper and fireworks for the arena at Figueras.
Major tir "King Kong" created in LA., sponsored by Dawn
Gallery; later acquired by Moderna Museet, Stockholm. Her love of horror movies
provides source of inspiration for this and other works. Reviews.
She and Tinguely find an old country inn outside of Paris to live and work,
l'Auberge du Cheval Blanc, Soisy sur Ecole, France. Begins work on figurative
reliefs -confrontational depictions of women, some giving birth or vivisectioned.
Creates other figurative assemblages including freestanding dragons, monsters
and brides presented in first solo show at Hanover Gallery, London. Travels to
new York with Jean Tinguely and stays at the Chelsea Hotel, taking part in New
York art activities.
Inspired by the pregnancy of her friend Clarisse Rivers, she
begins considering archetypal female figures in relation to her thinking on the
position of women in society. Her updated version of 'everywoman' are named
'Nanas'. The first of these freely posed forms, made of papier-mache, yarn and
cloth are exhibited at the Alexander Iolas Gallery, Paris, September 65. For
this show Iolas publishes her first artist book that includes her handwritten
words in combination with her drawings of 'Nanas'. Encouraged by Iolas, she
starts a highly productive output of graphic work that accompanies exhibitions
-invitations, posters, books and writings.
In 1966 collaborates with Tinguely and Per Olof Ultlvedt on a large scale
sculpture installation, "hon-en katedral". for Moderna Museet, Stockholm. The
outer form of "hon" is a giant, reclining 'Nana', whose internal environment is
entered from between her legs. The immense public reaction to the work is
written about in magazines and newspapers throughout the world. The interactive
quality of the "hon" combined with a continued fascination with fantastic types
of architecture insensifies her resolve to see her own architectural dreams
realized. Meets Swiss artist Rico Weber, during construction of the "hon". Over
the next ten years, Weber will be an important assistant /collaborator for both
she and Jean Tinguely. Designs decors and costumes for two theatrical
productions - a ballet by Roland Petit, and an adaptation of Aristophanes' play
Together with Tinguely receives commission from the French
Government to make a sculpture for "Expo '67" in Monreal, Canada. Their
collaboration, "Le Paradis Fantastique", a combination of their distinct styles,
is installed on the roof of the French Pavilion. After "Expo'67", attempts fail
to find a permanent home for the sculpture in either France or the United
States. Through the efforts of Pontus Hulten, the piece is saved from
destruction, and acquired by moderna Museet where it is installed. Working on
the "Paradis Fantastique", she is exposed to toxic fumes produced by polyester.
This and other materials used in her work cause severe damage to her lungs, that
result in recurrent health problems.
First retrospective, "Les Nanas au Pouvoir", is organized at the Stedelijk
Museum, Amsterdam. Creates a number of new pieces for the show that emphasize a
direction toward architectural and functional design -"Nana Dream House" and
"Nana Fountain", and the placement of elements to form a sculptural tableau.
"The Bride's Dream".
Writes story that she adapts with Rainer Von Diez into a play, ICH. Designs
decors, costumes, and poster for the production that is presented at the
Staatstheater, Kassel, Germany, June 1968. Designs 'Nana' inflatables, a
multiple in plastic, that are produced and distributed in the United States.
Publishes series of semi-autobiographical serigraphs that are executed in a
pictographic style combining images, letters and writing into a complete
narrative. Exhibits extensively in the United States.
First permanent architectural project is private commission
for a summer residence in the South of France. The project consists of three
buildings, each uniquely shaped, detailed and painted, completed in 1971.
Continues involvement in 'fantastic' architectural projects requiring her total
commitment in all stages of planning and execution. Sculpture "Black Venus"
acquired by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and exhibited in
museum's show, "Contemporary American Sculpture, Selection II", April 69.
Travels to India and Egypt -these cultural experiences broaden the context of
visual associations used in her work. Tinguely begins work on his major
sculptural project, "LA Tete" or "Le Cyclop", Milly-la Foret, France. Declared a
monument of France, this work in progress for over twenty years is a
collaboration of many artists.
Participates in the "10th anniversary of the Nouveau Realistes Festival" in
Milan November 70. She shoots an outdoor tir as part of the 'action spectacles'.
Marries Jean Tinguely, July 13, 1971. They travel together to
Morocco. Granddaughter, Bloum, born to Laura and Laurent Condominas in Bali 71.
Receives a public commission to create a an architecture for children in
Jerusalem, "Golem", a giant monster head with tongue slides which is completed
in 72. The following year receives a private commission to build an architecture
for children, "Dragon", in Belgium.
In 1972 begins productive association with art fabricator, Haligon, France, for
her large scale sculptures and work in editions. Makes first jewelry design for
GEM Montebello Laboratory, Milan.
Exhibits new sculptural tableaux "Devouring Mothers" and the following year "Les
Funerailles du Pere". These works are based on ideas of a child's perspective of
estragement from the world of adults.
Acts in film "Daddy" that she wrote, produced and directed with Peter Whitehead.
The film is a surreal, psychological exploration of a relationship between a
father and a tri-part character of the daughter as child , adolescent and adult.
Official premiere September 73 as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center's "IIth
New York Filmm Festival". Designs the film's festival's program cover with
reference to three noted women directors.
Builds three large scale' Nanas' for permanent site near town
hall in Hannover, Germany. The city names them Sophie, Charlotte and Caroline in
honor of three historically distinguished women from Hannover.
Exhibits maquettes of realized and unrealized architectural projects, creates
artist book and invitation to accompany the show. Hospitalized with a serious
lung ailment. Lives in the Swiss mountains to regain her health. Reads Gaston
Bachelar, Rainer Maria Rilke and Konstandinos Kavafy. There she meets a friend
she had known in New York in the 1950's, Marella Caracciolo Agnelli, to whom she
confides her ultimate dream-to someday build a sculpture garden based on her
interpretations of symbols from the Tarot. Her friend's brothers, Carlo and
Nicola Caracciolo, offer a parcel of their land in Tuscany, Italy as a site for
her dream. The massive undertaking of the garden will consume her thoughts and
energies for nearly twenty years.
Writes, directs, produces and acts in the film "Un Reve Plus
Long que la Nuit". The production includes the talents and participation of her
daughter Laura Condominas, Jean Tinguely, Daniel Spoeri, Lunguinbul, Eva Aeppli,
Marina Karella, Andree Putman, and others. In 1975, her eighteen element
sculptural tableau "Last Night I Had a Dream" is installed on the exterior of
the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, for an arts festival.
Returns to Switzerland for a period of time. Develops ideas for the imagery that
will carry the special mystic meanings, energies, and associations of the tarot
to the site of her planned contemplative, sculpture garden.
Beginning of a close and long friendship with assistant/collaborator Ricardo
Menon, who will be with her for many years.
Land is cleared and foundations dug at site in Tuscany
formally named "Giardino dei Tarocchi". Makes first models related to the Tarot
figures that will be represented in the Garden.
Becomes interested in the idea of linear sculpture-drawings in space and makes
the "Skinnys". This series of totem-like pieces often have colored lights and
elements suspended by string. Begins to design furniture and other functional
objects with serpents and figurative forms.
Lives for a while in Malibu, California and conceives a series of maquettes
based on new ideas for architectural fantasies. These works are first exhibited
at Gimpel & Weitzenhffer, New York, and then travels in the United States.
Has first solo show in Japan at Gallery Watari, Tokyo.
The symbols of the Tarot serve as guide in the creation of
the Garden. Construction begins on the first architectural sculpture "La Papesse",
representing female creativity and strength. Spends the major part of the next
ten years on site receiving assistance from many friends and supporters. Jean
Tinguely together with Rico Weber and Seppi Imhof beguin welding the iron
understructures for the first group of enlarged Tarot Figures; this work
involving special engineering skills for each piece, is taken over and completed
by Dutch artist, Doc Wilsen. Local residents are hired and over the years, their
efforts will be important to the project's success.
The Ulm Museum organizes the first retrospective devoted to her graphic work.
Permanently installs the sculpture "Poet et sa Muse" at University of Ulm.
Honored with a major retrospective at Musee National d'art moderne, Centre
George Pompidou, Paris, that travels to Austria, Germany and Sweden.
First show is organized at experimental space, SPACE NIKI, Tokyo. Established by
Yoko Masuda, SPACE NIKI is an impressive collection of work in all media, films
and related material that further understanding of the artist and her work.
Creates fragrance that bears her name for the Jaqueline
Cochran Company, New York. Designs distinctive blue and gold bottles and
packaging with logo of entwined serpents. Makes a promotional tour across the
United States for the perfume. The money from the perfume goes to finance the
Garden. Collaborates with Tinguely to create a foundation for the City of Paris
on a site beside the Centre George Pompidou. They combine their sculptural
elements in a fluid, moving setting, producing a joyous spontaneity-an apt
homage to Igor Stravinsky for whom the fountain is named.
Creates permanent sculpture "Sun God" for the University of California at San
Diego as part of the Stuart Collection. Designs print for a project to support
an alternative art space, the Temporary Contemporary, Los Angeles. The work, in
the form of a pictographic letter, expresses her early awareness and concern for
those afflicted by AIDS. Continues to be involved in efforts to reverse the
effects of ignorance and bias which allow this fatal virus to spread.
Suffers first of recurring, debilitating attacks of rheumatoid arthritis.
Exhibits the "Skinnys" at Gimpel & Weitzenhoffer, New York and at Gimpel Fils,
London. Moves into the "Empress", the Sphinx structure at the Tarot Garden. This
will be her home and studio for the next seven years during a period of intense
work of completing the Garden. Meets Verena Finocchiaro, a ceramist teacher from
During these years, most of her time is spent on site of the
Garden, where many of the major works are nearing completion. Works based on her
Tarot figures, accompanied by an artist book, are exhibited at Gimpel Fils,
London and at Gimpel& Weitzenhoffer, New York.
The Victoria Albert Museum, London, acquires one of her perfume bottles capped
with entwined serpents. Produces a series of flower vases in the shape of
various animals. Meets Marcelo Zitelli who becomes an important
In collaboration with Dr. Silvio Barandun, writes and illustrates the book
"AIDS: You Can't Catch it Holding Hands". This informative text, presented in a
positive and compassionate format, is published in seven languages. Receives
commission from Mrs. Helen Schneider to create a fountain, "Snake Tree", for the
Schneider Children's Hospital, Long Island, New York. Has major retrospectives
at the Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturtiftung, Munich, and Nassau County museum of
Fine Art, Long Island, New York.
With Tinguely creates "Fontaine Chateau Chinon", commissioned
by the French President, Francois Mitterand. Alexandre Iolas her longtime
friend, dies. Begins to be represented in Paris by JGM Gallery and Gallery de
France. These galleries organize a number of exhibits that focus on different
periods in her career.
Begins use of bronze in new series of sculpture derived from ancient Egyptian
deities. Continues to develop images that have long interested and impressed
her, including' Nana' fountains, Tarot figures, phallic-like obelisks, skulls,
'Skinny' lamps, and a series of pictorial reliefs made in response to the
killing of endangered species. The experience of the Tarot Garden carries over
in her use of materials, particularly brilliantly colored or mirrored mosaics.
Ricardo Menon her assistant/collaborator with whom she shared a unique rapport,
dies. Collaborates with son Philip Mathews on an animated film based on her AIDS
book. This film, drawings for the film, and a revised edition of the AIDS book,
published by Agence Francaise de lutte contre le sida, are exhibited at the
Musee des ARTS Decoratifs, Paris, opening on international AIDS Awarness Day in
November 1991. Designs a giant kite "L'Oiseau Amoureux" for a worldwide
exhibition of artists' kite organized by Goethe Institute, Japan.
Makes maturate for "Le Temple Ideal", a place for worship for
all religions. This architecture was originally conceived in the early 1970's as
a hopeful alternative to the religious intolerance she observed while working in
Jerusalem. Receives commission from the city of Nimes, France, to build this
architectural sculpture. Because of politics, this project is never realized.
Jean Tinguely dies in Switzerland in August. In his honor, she makes her first
kinetic sculptures "Meta-Tinguelys".
The Kunst und Ausstellunghalle, Bonn organizes large
restropective. Exhibits in McLellan Galleries in Glasgow, the Musee d'art
Moderne de la Ville de Paris and the Musee D'Art et d'Histoire, Fribourg.
Installs fountain "Oiseau Amoureux" in Duisburg, Germany; and she creates a
sculpture for Olympic Museum "Les Footballeurs".
Moves to California, where she now lives and work. Realizes a
series of silkscreen, "California Diary" for Kornfeld editions. Receives the
Caran d'Ache. Shows in the James Goodman & Maxwell Davidson Galleries, New York.
Peter Schamoni realizes a long feature film about Niki entitled "Who is the
Monster, You or Me". Exhibit at the Kornfeld Gallery in Bern, Switzerland.
The Garden's first opening to the public during the month
during the months of July. Works on autobiography. Architect Mario Botta builds
a gate/entrance to the Garden. Works in collaboration with Mario Botta on a
project to build a sculpture park for children representing the arrival of Noah
and the Arch to the promised land. Official opening of the Tarot Garden to the
Public, May 15, 1998
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