Niki de Saint Phalle: Je Suis Une Vache Suisse
17th June – 10th September 2016
Je Suis Une Vache Suisse, curated by Dr. Helen Pheby of Yorkshire Sculpture Park, brings together many works by Niki de Saint Phalle that have not previously been seen in a public exhibition. The playful title of this exhibition is borrowed from Saint Phalle’s sculpture of 1991 and is the point of departure for a significant display of work that gives serious insight into the work of one of the greatest artists of the 20th century.
Studying the over-arching narrative that stems from the raw angry nature of Saint Phalle’s early works to the reconciled later works in which she explores and celebrates being a woman in control of her own career, body and life, this important exhibition looks at the changes in her oeuvre.
French-born Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002) gained prominent recognition in the early 1960s for her Shooting Paintings, which were created by firing at complex assemblages of canvas and containers of paint. Determined through action and chance, the resulting works are incredibly vital and mark a personal as well as professional breakthrough.
Saint Phalle began to make art seriously in 1953, as catharsis following a nervous breakdown – the culmination of an early life of male domination including being sexually abused by her father. Notwithstanding this troubled existence, her creative, defiant and playful spirit was evident even as a teenager. Drawing on mythical depictions as well as personal experiences, her sculptures, works on paper, reliefs, jewellery and objects for the home are exuberant and life-affirming.
This vibrancy is seen in Saint Phalle’s monumental open-air mosaic sculpture Buddha (2000) at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The surface is made from pieces of glass, mirror, ceramic tile and polished stones – termed ‘M&Ms’ by the artist.
The exquisite menagerie of animal sculptures and works on paper in this exhibition, such as Gorilla (undated) and Monkey with Child (1995), share not only the artist’s joyful engagement with the natural world but her major Noah’s Ark project for the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo. These preparatory works, in particular, have not been seen in London for many years.
The exhibition includes a number of bird sculptures, a prevalent theme for the artist in the mid-1970s, alongside pieces incorporating snakes that reference the biblical myth of serpent as seducer – Snake Mirror (1998), the relief Le Serpent (1995) and Snake Cufflinks (1971-2015) developed by the artist in collaboration with WHO and kindly loaned by Louisa Guinness Gallery.
Niki de Saint Phalle
Born in Neuilly-sur-Seine, Niki de Saint Phalle moved to New York City at an early age. As a self- taught artist, she first gained international recognition for her Tirs (or ‘Shots’) series which parodied Art Informel painting, and eventually became associated with Nouveau Réalisme.
In 1964, the artist turned her attention to traditional depictions of women in society. She created life-size models of female archetypes- including women giving birth or dressed in wedding dresses- from plaster, wire and plastic toys, painting them completely white or decorated with splashes of bright colour. These were entitled ‘Nanas’, a French slang word that roughly translates to ‘broad’. Saint Phalle is also celebrated for her work on AIDS awareness, and in 1986 published Aids, You Can’t Catch it Holding Hands, an amalgamation of written word and illustration. Saint Phalle died of emphysema in California in 2002.
Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) is the leading international centre for modern and contemporary sculpture. It is an independent charitable trust and registered museum (number 1067908) situated in the 500-acre, 18th-century Bretton Hall estate in West Yorkshire. Founded in 1977 by Executive Director Peter Murray, YSP was the first sculpture park in the UK, and is the largest of its kind in Europe, providing the only place in Europe to see Barbara Hepworth’s The Family of Man in its entirety alongside a significant collection of sculpture, including bronzes by Henry Moore, and site-specific works by Andy Goldsworthy, David Nash and James Turrell. YSP also mounts a world-class, year-round temporary exhibitions programme including some of the world’s leading artists across five indoor galleries and the open air. Recent highlights include exhibitions by Bill Viola, Anthony Caro, Fiona Banner, Ai Weiwei, Ursula von Rydingsvard, Amar Kanwar, Yinka Shonibare MBE, Joan Miró and Jaume Plensa. More than eighty works on display across the estate include major sculptures by Ai Weiwei, Roger Hiorns, Sol LeWitt, Joan Miró, Dennis Oppenheim and Magdalena Abakanowicz.