PaperCity Magazine

PaperCity Houston November 2021

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I n keeping with The Menil Collection's ongoing commitment to shine an art-historical light on pioneering women artists, the museum opens a triumphant exhibition with eerily prescient timing: "Niki de Saint Phalle in the 1960s." Billed as the first American exhibition to examine the pivotal '60s in the French-American artist's practice, the show brings both scholarly revelations and visual firepower to the canon of Saint Phalle (1930-2002). The latter is an apt analogy for an artist who began the decade by literally taking a .22 to her canvases while inviting artist pals and the public to join her in imploding bags of pigment or cans of paint upon the ghostly white surfaces of her assemblage-layered canvases. These ground-breaking performative happenings raised the flag of feminism a decade before artists such as Ana SAINT PHALLE SuBvErSiVe FROM RADICAL TO RIOTOUS, THE MENIL COLLECTION UNVEILS THE FEMINIST SHOW OF THE FALL. BY CATHERINE D. ANSPON Mendieta and Hannah Wilke, making Saint Phalle a poster person for gender parity in the art world and beyond. And she lived that role, as the only female member of the French avant-garde group the Nouveaux Réalistes (which included her husband/and occasional collaborator Jean Tinguely, who's also represented in The Menil Collection). Saint Phalle also collaborated with seminal American artists of the post- war era, notably Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. Besides these Tirs or "shooting paintings" — emblematic of "rage" against the patriarchy of her time says co-curator Michelle White during a press preview of the exhibition — museum goers will be rewarded with the artist's exuberant take on sculpture, vis- à-vis pneumatic women of Goodyear blimp-like proportions. These memorable femmes morph during the decade into varying archetypes: mothers, goddesses, brides, Godzilla- like monsters, sex workers. Inflated- looking, they are christened by the artist as Nanas (French slang for girls). The compelling series, begun in 1965, emit early proto-Pop whiffs of joie de vivre. The jaunty green-frocked Madame ou Nana verte au sac noir [Green Nana with Black Bag], 1968, steals the show while prefiguring Saint Phalle's later public works. This is the rare exhibition where the archival materials create a sensation. Installed in the final gallery of the exhibition are vintage clippings (Saint Phalle, who once dabbled as a model, was a media darling garnering front-page headlines and multi-page magazine spreads for both Nanas and canvas-shooting actions); film footage, including that shot by The Menil Collection founder's son, François de (Continued) Niki de Saint Phalle posing with her Nanas at Galerie Alexandre Iolas, Paris, 1965 PHOTO © ANDRÉ MORAIN 56

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