Feminism and Daring: Cataloguing Niki de Saint Phalle

“Very early on I decided to become a heroine . . .” said Niki de Saint Phalle (1930–2002). “What did it matter who I would be? The main thing was that it had to be difficult, grandiose, exciting.”

That quote, which adorns the back cover of Niki de Saint Phalle (La Fábrica / Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, 2015), captures the ambition and bravado of the French-American artist. The lush catalogue was published for a recent retrospective of Saint Phalle’s work that was shown at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and the RMN-Grand Palais in Paris.

Saint Phalle may be best known for exuberant mosaic sculptures known as her “Nanas,” several of which were showcased as the inaugural works in NMWA’s New York Avenue Sculpture Project. This retrospective celebrates and contextualizes her Nanas while shedding light on her other work—from paintings to sculptures to experimental films—as well as her boldly cultivated persona and the political and feminist subjects that her art addressed.

In this catalogue, Saint Phalle’s work is presented in four sections—“The Beginnings,” on her formative work; “Shooting, Performances, and Commitment,” which traces her public persona and action-based Shooting Paintings; “Feminine Imagery,” highlighting her vibrant and sometimes aggressive portrayals of women; and “Sculpture and Public Art.” Numerous contributors include Bloum Cardenas, the artist’s granddaughter and trustee of the Niki Charitable Art Foundation, and Camille Morineau, lead exhibition curator.

Morineau’s introductory essay asserts Saint Phalle’s status as a feminist and risk-taker with a “mixture of coherence, complexity, and courage which distinguishes great artists.”

All are welcome to look at this catalogue, which is available in the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. If you’re touring the museum’s exhibitions, the library is open to the public and makes a great starting point on the fourth floor. In addition to beautiful books and comfortable chairs, library visitors enjoy interesting exhibitions that feature archival manuscripts, personal papers by women artists, rare books, and artists’ books. Reference Desk staff members are always happy to answer questions and offer assistance. Open Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–12 p.m. and 1–5 p.m.

—Elizabeth Lynch is the editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.