Retrospective of Niki de Saint Phalle opens at Nelson-Atkins

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Retrospective of Niki de Saint Phalle opens at Nelson-Atkins
Niki de Saint Phalle, French-American, 1930–2002. Angel (yellow). Collection MAMAC, Nice, France; Gift of the artist, 2001. © 2023 Niki Charitable Art Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

KANSAS CITY, MO.- The first full-career U.S. retrospective of French American avant-garde artist Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002) opened April 27 at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. Saint Phalle’s highly accessible works in two- and three-dimensions resonate with visitors of all ages and sophistication levels. Most of the pieces that are on view have never been seen before in the U.S. Niki de Saint Phalle: Rebellion and Joy closes July 21, 2024.

“Saint Phalle is one of the late twentieth century’s great creative personalities who was ahead of her time,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, Director & CEO of the Nelson-Atkins. “This exhibition presents the arc of her career from societal rage to communal joy and celebration.”

Saint Phalle’s magic is the multiplicity of her work and her ability to discuss serious issues in an easily accessible way.

“This exhibition traces the chronology of Saint Phalle’s career, from her assemblages to works addressing social justice issues,” said William Keyse Rudolph, Deputy Director, Curatorial Affairs and Chief Curator and Head, Architecture, Design and Decorative Arts. “Her bold forms, bright colors, and whimsical imagery catch the eye while simultaneously tackling social issues such as feminism, racism, and HIV/AIDS stigma.”

Rudolph is co-curating the exhibition with Helene Guenin, Director of MAMAC, and Olivier Bergesi, Project Manager, MAMAC.

One of the most imaginative artists of the second half of the 20th century, the self-taught Saint Phalle burst upon the international art world in the 1960s as a rebel. First, she literally shot things up: firing .22 caliber rifles at plaster-covered paintings that contained hidden bags of liquid paint. Next, Saint Phalle created a joyous, distinctive language of iconic female forms called “Nanas”, which are powerful feminist celebrations of womanhood. Over many years, she created complex, immersive public art environments to free art from the walls of museums, self-financing these projects through creating replicas and licensed objects. All along, she also used her art to address issues of the day, including a commitment to social justice and as a supportive and educational way to fight the stigma of the emerging AIDS epidemic.

Saint Phalle truly believed that art could change the world.

The objects in this exhibition are drawn from the Musée d’Art Moderne et de Contemporain (MAMAC) in Nice, France, which houses one of the largest collections of her work, as well as the Niki Charitable Art Foundation. Nearly 100 paintings, sculptures, prints, and films are on view.

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