Niki de Saint Phalle @ Gimpel Fils

Gimpel Fils gallery showcases an exhibition of French-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002). The exhibition of sculpture, drawings and prints has been opened by Niki’s granddaughter, Bloum Cardenas featuring works from the 1960s to the 90s.

From the early 1960s Saint Phalle dynamically emerges with work exploring femininity and modern womanhood, incorporating violence and twisted humour. Simultaneously, she challenges the authority and status of the Church and its impact on female identity by creating provocative artwork with clear references to religious archetypes, such as ‘Le Chateau de Gilles de Rais’ (1962) and ‘Autel Dore’ (1962-1995); in the latter, Christian icons and a crucifix are accompanied by doll parts and toys as part of a bronze doré (gilt bronze) assemblage triptych.

Childhood and the complex relationship between child and father seems to have had a deep impact on Niki’s work. This is clearly evident in her autobiographical film ‘Daddy’ (1973). Her anxiety on the patriarchal society and the repressed female presence led Niki to the production of a large number of works, a clear tribute to the female gender and its power via the motherhood element. The ‘Nanas’ are the fruits of this esoteric process and “Nana sur le Dauphin” (1994) exhibited here demonstrates Niki’s need to immortalise the role of woman; to make her superior and reach the status of a goddess. She uses vibrant and powerful colours on polyester, vinyl, papier mâché. Some of her works are large and others are of monumental proportions, but unfortunately the selection of her works here is limited to the smaller/est ones.

In 1979 Saint Phalle decided to create a monumental sculpture garden similar to Barcelona’s Parc Güell built by Gaudi. The work on Giardino dei Tarocchi (The Tarot garden) in Garavicchio, Tuscany, involved over 20 years of hard work and extreme money spending; it contained sculptures inspired by the symbols found on Tarot cards. The work ‘Hall of Justice’ (1979) is a miniature inspired by her garden’s highly imaginative gigantic sculptures.

Being one of the few women artists not only in the Parisian avant-garde of the 1950s but also in the international arts world, Niki de Saint Phalle successfully managed to create a legendary impact with her independent and provocative artwork and become an influential figure from the second half of the 20th century up until now. The exhibition at Gimpel Fils gallery offers a great chance to see some of her sculptures and silkscreen prints but it works more as a “teaser” to revisit step by step the career of such a great artist.
|Kostas Prapoglou