Niki de Saint Phalle – The Big Shots


27. April 2016 – 07. May 2017
Sprengel Museum HannoverSprengel Museum Hannover
To mark the start of the collection presentation 130% Sprengel, the Sprengel Museum Hannover is opening the Front Hall with a selection of seminal works by Niki de Saint Phalle from the generous donation she made to the museum in 2000.

Niki de Saint Phalle – The Big Shots recounts her artistic development based on selected works dating from the start of the 1960s to the 1990s. De Saint Phalle’s early emancipation as an artist is manifested in the Shooting Pictures. In an equally destructive and productive act of self-empowerment she began shooting at her own pictures in 1961 in order to make them “bleed.” In the process, paint gushed from the pockets filled with paint that were embedded in plaster behind the surfaces, staining the pictures and creating a new pictorial form. A key example is Hommage to Bob Rauschenberg – Shot by Rauschenberg (1961), an assemblage honouring the then already famous American artist Robert Rauschenberg, whom she invited to shoot at it himself.

In her large-scale material pictures from the 1960s Niki de Saint Phalle vies with such heroes when she frees herself both ideally and concretely from many compulsions. In Saint Sébastien or Portrait of my Lover (1961) the head of her lover is replaced by a dartboard that has been pierced by darts while in La Mort du Patriarche (1962) she settles up with the fatherly figure characterised by muscles, a large phallus and a small head. And finally there are the large altar pictures such as the striking triptych Ahriman et Lucifer attaquent (1962) that make allegations against the restrictive ideology and hierarchy of the institutional church. The large panels and figures are inhabited by mythical creatures and dragons, the “monsters” of childhood and the present, together with fighter planes, baby dolls and crucifixes. The wild and colourful world of Niki de Saint Phalle unites play and destruction, narrative and references to reality in markedly original energy-charged pictorial inventions.

With the ‘Nanas,’ represented here by the wonderful large Gwendolyn (1966-90), Niki de Saint Phalle has created poetic, powerful and extensive women and mother figures. As large-scale sculptures their bold and joyful colourfulness and physicality likewise point the way to her later installations, fountains and gardens.

In the late 1970s Niki de Saint Phalle began with the construction of The Garden of Tarot at Garavicchio, Italy, on which she would work for over fifteen years. The foundations of her designs are formed by the 22 Major Arcana or trumps in the tarot deck that she translated into three-dimensional figures and accessible sculpture-architecture with the help of the sculptor Jean Tinguely. De Saint Phalle created her own interpretation of these figures and in doing so a magic garden, around which she had her friend, the architect Mario Botta, build a protective wall. She also temporarily set up her studio in the central Sphinx, from which she supervised and provided for her numerous co-workers. The exhibition includes the Plasticine garden model on a cutting board as well as a selection of the models.

The conclusion of the presentation is made up by large-format sculptures with mosaics, for example Obélisque de miroirs (1993), which anticipates the Grotto in Hannover’s Herrenhausen Gardens from 2000, one of Niki de Saint Phalle’s last major projects.


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