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"Once I painted in a brillant red, the vine leaves covering the sex of the statues in the school hall"
Niki SAINT-PHALLE (DE) - Detailed biography


Catherine Marie-Agnès Fal de Saint-Phalle, Niki de Saint-Phalle, was born in Neuilly-sur-Seine on October 29, 1930. She followed her family to the United States after  the stock market crash. Strongly affected by an incestuous father, she first worked as a model for Vogue, Life, and Elle, and later debuted her artistic career encouraged by the painter Hugh Weiss.

She was made famous in 1961 with her first exposition Fires, performances where spectators were invited to take a rifle and shoot her plaster assemblages with bullets of paint. She became a member of the Nouveaux Réalistes in 1960, playing the role of mediator between the French and American avant-gardes. It is at this time that she creates ex voto, then Nanas, voluptuous women created from wire, papier maché, and polyester.

After her divorce from the writer Harry Matthews, on July 13, 1971, she married Jean Tinguely, himself recently divorced from his wife Eva Aeppli.

From June to September 1966 and with the help of her new husband, she created Hon/Elle for Stockholm’s Moderna Museet, a monumental female statue reaching 28m long by 6m high by 9m wide, posed sleeping on her side with legs entwined.  The visitors could penetrate the sculpture through the space between her legs. Inside, they would find several additional pieces realized by the artist. Their artistic collaboration produced most notably the Cyclops at Milly-la-Foret, the Stravinsky fountain in Paris, the fountain of Chateau-Chinon and the Tarot garden in Capalbio, Italy.

Inspired by the Gaudi Guell Park in Barcelona, at Garavicchio in Tuscany she produced a Tarot garden of sculptures beginning in 1979, inspired by the figures of Tarot cards. It opened its doors to the public in 1998.

Her later works that include the Igor Stravinsky fountain in Paris and the Tarot garden in Tuscany, as well as her Meta-Tinguey’s in honor of her late husband, mix poetry and humor, mind games and sadness.  A member of the AIDS association, she succumbed to a repertory illness on May 21, 2002 in San Diego.