Visual Art La Femme Niki
posted by January 22 at 14:30 PMon
Because this is the kind of work she made for more than two decades before she died in 2002, this is what a work of art by Niki de Saint Phalle is generally understood to look like:
But there’s another, far lesser-known Niki de Saint Phalle: Niki the Shooter. According to the Tate Modern’s web site, de Saint Phalle started attaching paint-filled bags to backings and shooting them in 1960—and she stopped in 1963, saying, “I had become addicted to shooting.”
I found out about these a few months ago, when I first met Nancy Stoaks, a graduate student who is now The Stranger's visual art intern. Her master's thesis (in progress) is on de Saint Phalle's shooting paintings, and I can't wait to read it. Then last night, I was flipping through Artforum's previews when I saw:
Niki de Saint Phalle
Author: Melanie Gilligan
02.01.08-05.05.08 Tate Liverpool, Liverpool, UK
The chirpiest-seeming of feminist art stars, French artist Niki de Saint Phalle is not often associated with bloodthirst: "In 1961 I shot at: daddy, all men, small men, large men." This 1987 statement regarding her early Nouveau Réaliste Shooting Paintings—symbolic executions of the male art establishment—is a window into a lesser-known side of de Saint Phalle's work, which has been frequently identified with the grotesque friendliness and exuberance of her subsequent Nana sculptures. Attempting to revise preconceptions, this retrospective—spanning 1953 to the late 1990s—will focus on the darker, more brutal aspects of de Saint Phalle's oeuvre in some 120 assemblages, paintings, sculptures, altars, and graphic works. WIll this approach afford new insights? For instance, that her overblown icons of female jouissance have always held a latent threat? The show's catalogue features an essay by Barbara Rose, among others.
Before I met Stoaks, I'd never imagined anything "brutal" about de Saint Phalle, although, given the exaggerations of her figures, I probably should have.
But one thing that strikes me from looking at images Stoaks has shared with me is that while many of de Saint Phalle's shooting works have violent overtones (this painting is in line with Gilligan's citation in Artforum)
there seems to be something else at play, too. De Saint Phalle's shooting paintings do not simply appropriate the militaristic tools of the patriarchy to form a mirror-image matriarchal subjectivity that can shoot back at men.
In some cases they take apart the subjectivity of the artist altogether. In some cases, de Saint Phalle doesn't do the shooting at all. She has other people do the shooting, sometimes other artists and sometimes viewers.
In other words, for every one of these juicy, heroine-like views of Niki with a gun,
there's an alternative documentation of a perfect civilian doing the shooting, like this one (from a show of de Saint Phalle's works):
No doubt de Saint Phalle is taking aim at the male art establishment with her shooting paintings. But again, it's complicated. She's inviting as collaborators male artists who are taking the same aim in their own work (ie Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns), and then asking them to shoot parodies of their own works. Here are two of those parodies, shot at by Rauschenberg and Johns themselves:
The show at the Tate Liverpool opens February 1. I only wish I could be there.