Niki de Saint Phalle in Les Abattoirs: re-enchanting the world through art

This is the exhibition-event this winter in Toulouse, at its museum of modern art. Niki de Saint-Phalle: 1980s and 1990s: art in freedom, Explores the last two decades of work by one of the most iconic Franco-American and feminist artists of the 20th century.

A new look at Saint Phalle

From October 7, 2023 to March 5, 2023, Toulouse Frac is dedicated to a retrospective of the artist known for his sculptural works in es.public place. In more than 200 works, the exhibition reveals a more hidden part of her work, sometimes nicknamed “the second part of her work” – where de Saint Phalle is usually appreciated for her frames or her extreme girls of the 1960s and 1970s. The exhibition is curated by Annabelle Ténèze – responsible for Abattoirs with Lucie Pesapane and Pascal Rodríguez in Scenography.

“My passion is to give others a few moments of joy through my art. “

The course begins in 1978, the year the Tarot garden began to develop in Italy. However, it is enough to explain the complexity and richness of the creativity of the visual artist, designer and performer, sometimes writer. Without forgetting his creation and his career: because until his death in 2002, the intimate and artistic past are intertwined to feed his late work. The exhibition highlights his commitments, his desire to spread art everywhere, his passion for colors, curves and materials.

A dynamic and cheerful exhibition

So invite the shimmering colors; glitters, childish joy, serpentine and voluptuous forms, mosaics, small pleasures, a sense of grandeur mixed with a taste for small things. For we find not only his statues; as well as her furniture, design and everyday items, including the bottle she conceptualized for the perfume – sold to fund her Tarot garden. These two decades represent a more open interest in a certain good, increasing the representation of animals. Especially its totem animal, the snake, another common theme of pilgrimage.

The exhibition presents extensive documentation through the study room located in the basement, the artist’s photographs, lithographs, and preparatory drawings reflecting the development of his projects. The public is greeted by the grand nave, its main room, a curtain of inflatable maidens, and the monumental Loch Ness Monster (1993), glowing with a thousand lights, along with its giant totems. They also testify to the attention to detail of this obsessive artist who can interchange materials and motifs in the same work.

We explore it further the skinny ones, hollow and filiform sculptures born from the artist’s need for air, suffering from a respiratory illness caused by his work. Another part is devoted to the creation of this Tarot Garden, set in Tuscany, which required twenty years of work – with the participation of her husband Jean Tingueli and the entire team. Inspired by the aesthetics of Gaudí’s Parc Güell and Cheval’s Ideal Palace. Cosmos brings to life twenty-two card games in the museum, brought to life by photographic documentation of the artist’s works, sculptures, models and lithographs. Each arcana is an allegorical architecture: the Wheel of Fortune, the Wizard, the Oracle, the Prophet, the High Priestess, inhabited by fantastic creatures. The artist stayed with the empress for several years.

A vanguard followed

This is the central axis of the scenography of these decades. She is known for promoting artistic freedom for women. Celebrating their strength, creativity, bodies and sexuality. As such, she was a prophetic feminist who was at the forefront (like feminist theorists of her time) on issues related to violence. Like domestic incest, but in a broader sense, sexual violence, physical and psychological abuse that he “inflicts”. In the room where he talks about himself (“Ecriture de soi”), he presents his famous “secret”, a short illustrated book (“Mon secret”, 1994), which the curators chose to display as a whole. Lately, he talks about his father’s abuse of him at the age of eleven, which gives a new reading to all his art, which shows his sensitivity to the “injustices” of this world, born from the desire to go beyond this event.

“My art will allow me to show myself without a mask”

In addition, she claims her ecofeminism since the 1970s – a then little-known term coined by Françoise d’Eaubonne. In short, he was already advocating material and intellectual independence as a free creator who independently financed his own projects, as well as sexual freedom (posters, awareness books, films) as seen in his commitment to AIDS work. virus and protection information, with its colorful figurines celebrating healthy and full sexuality. Abortion was also close to his heart, in addition to the rampant gun legalization under Bush when he was in the US. As a contemporary artist, she is also committed to issues of racism, celebrating people of color with her black heroes. He “draws” patriarchy, capitalism.
But it was light, not darkness, that he decided to spread all these themes and their traumatic psychological burden that could make him, in his own words, a “terrorist”. So art was his new skin, his transformation, like his snakes.

Other events related to the exhibition are expected in 2023: a conference on “” is planned for January 19 Tarot gardenAs part of the series Niki de Saint Phalle: Art in Freedom, curated by Catherine Frankble.

Frac Occitanie Toulouse Museum, 76 All. Charles de Fitte, 31300 Toulouse Haute-Garonne.
It is open from Wednesday to Sunday, from 12:00 to 18:00. More information here.


View of the Niki de Saint Phalle exhibition. The 1980s and 1990s: art in freedom”, at the Forestry, Museum – Frac Occitanie Toulouse © Niki Charitable Art Foundation / Adagp © photo Boris Conte

View of the Niki de Saint Phalle exhibition. The 1980s and 1990s: art in freedom”, at the Forestry, Museum – Frac Occitanie Toulouse © Niki Charitable Art Foundation / Adagp © photo Boris Conte

Niki de Saint Phalle, High Priestess and Magician under construction, Tarot Garden, Capalbio (Italy), 1986 © Niki Charitable Art Foundation ® Photo Giulio Pietromarchi

Niki de Saint Phalle in one of the artists’ chairs. Montage of his retrospective at the Center Pompidou, 1980. © Niki Charitable Art Foundation. © Photo by Leonardo Bezzola

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