Exhibition - Niki De Saint Phalle: Joy Revolution

Thursday, Apr 15, 2021 at 11:00am

Salon 94
3 E 89th Street
New York, NY 10128

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It is with great joy that Salon 94 announces a major exhibition of works by Niki de Saint Phalle (1930–2002) to inaugurate our new building on 3 East 89th Street. Gathering important historical works from the Niki Charitable Art Foundation, alongside private collections, the exhibition ranges from rare maquettes to classic monumental Nanas, works on paper, and archival film, and includes rarely-seen, late mechanical paintings and mosaic furniture.

The exhibition celebrates the political and historical context of Saint Phalle’s practice and explores the artist’s philosophy of radical joy—a core concept of her utopic vision of an egalitarian matriarchal society. Long before anyone labeled her a feminist artist, Saint Phalle assembled symbolically charged figures who precociously embodied revolutionary gender politics.

“I called my first museum exhibition with the Nanas ‘Les Nanas au Pouvoir.’ For me they were the symbol of a happy, liberated woman. Today, nearly twenty years later, I see them differently. I see them as the forerunners of a new matriarchal epoch.” 

Throughout her career, Saint Phalle forged a sculptural pantheon of empowered womanhood. The Nanas came to be understood as emblems of women’s liberation and also became Saint Phalle’s brand, obscuring the more complex meanings behind their jubilant forms.

Her initial figures took the form of monstrous archetypes—Brides, Mothers, or Goddesses—made from amalgamations of plastic toys, fake flowers, dismembered baby dolls, and more. Painted white, these figures were fraught and haunted, carrying burdens of centuries of unhappy obligation and limited by their assigned roles. Many of these assemblage figures became targets for Saint Phalle’s Tir (shooting) paintings. Pointing a rifle at her work, she would shoot at the canvases, which released the colors she had loaded inside the work as a symbolic conflation of her personal rage and her expansion of the field of performative painting.

The radically joyful Nana was born in 1964. Saint Phalle explained this dramatic shift to the Nana—the somewhat innocuous French slang for girls or “chicks”—in her life and her work: “After the shooting paintings the anger was gone, but pain remained, then the pain left and I found myself in the studio, making joyous creatures to the glory of women.”

In 1967 these “joyous creatures” grew in stature and scale as Saint Phalle presented monumental Nanas, and the wild animal sculptures that often came with them, alongside a forest of living trees rising in the height of the Stedelijk Museum galleries. Marking Saint Phalle’s lifelong practice in outdoor, public space, the concept of the garden continued throughout her practice as a space for growth and freedom.

Exhibition Date: March 20, 2021 - April 24, 2021

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