Niki de Saint Phalle 1930-2002
The Visual art Library has recently acquire the catalogue of her gift of 170 works in 2001 to the Musee d’Art Moderne et Contemporain in Nice.
I knew about the de Saint Phalle family long before I met Niki. Her first cousin was a bridesmaid in my mother’s wedding in 1936. I only met Niki once at a crowded artist party on West 57th Street in New York.
Niki de Saint Phalle, born Agnes, came from a very social French American banking family. They lived in New York. Niki was expelled from Brearley for painting a fig leaf appropiately on a statue. Brearley is known as the intellectual girl’s private school on 83rd Street in New York City as opposed to Chapin, known as the social girl’s school a block away. She was a striking young woman and in 1949, while modeling at 18, she was on the cover of Life Magazine.
Surely her most extraordinary work is the Tarot Garden. The land came from friends of hers and she began this monumental work in 1979 and finished it in the late 1990’s. Niki’s work was, for me, an acquired taste, but, as I became accustomed to it, I came to like it. Once I visited Tarot Garden, I was totally with her. Tarot Garden is very near the major Etruscan sites in Italy on the west coast north of Rome. It is worth a trip.
In 1971, Niki married the Swiss artist, Jean Tinguely (1925-1991) who created wonderful playful kenetic art works. His fountain in Basel is a delight. Perhaps his best known work in the United States was the 1960 Homage to The City of New York which was a self-destructing machine which did, in fact, self destructed (mostly) in the garden of the Museum of Modern art in New York in 1960.
Niki was represented by the legendary Egyptian-Greek dealer Alexander Iolas.