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Niki de Saint Phalle (France 1930‑2002)

”Mini Nana Acrobate”

To be sold at Uppsala Auktionskammare’s Important Sale: Modern & Contemporary 18-19 November 2020

Lot 568 Niki de Saint Phalle (France 1930‑2002). ”Mini Nana Acrobate”. Signed and dated Niki de Saint-Phalle 1968. Painted resin, Height 21 cm.


600.000 – 800.000 SEK
€ 58.000 – 77.000


A Swedish Private Collection.

In context

Niki de Saint Phalle – Celebrating the greatness of femininity

In the year of 1965 Niki de Saint Phalle created her first ”Nana”. This feminine super woman, that symbolizes the artistry of one of the most inspiring and interesting artists of the post-war era. Niki de Saint Phalle continuously challenged the conservative art world with her never-ending desire for experimentation and brought a joyful sense of fantasy into her art. Active during a period when most of her colleagues were males who focused on a minimalistic idiom, she was a breath of fresh air and will forever be regarded as one of the most influential artists and sculptors of her time.

Niki de Saint Phalle was born in France in the year of 1930 as the second of five children of a French father and American mother. The family was wealthy but got severely affected by the stock market collapse and later moved to New York City, where she spent most of her childhood even though the strong ties to her French family remained. Her first career was as a fashion model, appearing on the cover of prestigious magazines such as Vogue and Life. At the age of 18 she married the family friend Harry Matthews. She started to paint and in 1951 their daughter Laura was born. The young family spent most of their time in France, Niki studied theatre and acting and Harry studied music. In 1953 she got a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized for some time, painting helped her to recover, why she decided to become an artist instead of an actor. She developed a unique self-taught style and was encouraged by other artists to continue her artistic journey. This led the family to Mallorca where their son Philip was born in 1955. Living in Spain, she found a great inspiration in the work of Antonio Gaudí, which inspired her to experiment with different materials and include objects in her art.

When returning to Paris, Niki and Jean Tinguely met for the first time and started to collaborate with one another. She discovered the art of the Americans: Jasper Johns, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Robert Rauschenberg who were shown at Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville. She separated from Harry in 1960 and set up her own studio where she continued with her artistic experiments, by the end of the year Jean Tinguely moved in with her. Her artistry now focused on the so-called ”shooting paintings” (Tirs). In these extreme works she attached different types of colour containers to assemblages that then were shot at by Niki herself, with revolvers or guns, letting the containers explode the paint onto the surface. These shooting sessions were created as performances with audiences, soon being attracted by the media and other artists. Following this, she was regarded as one of the most rebellious avant-garde artists and was soon included, as the sole woman, in the movement Nouveaux Réalistes with, among others, Yves Klein, Arman, Christo, Villeglé, Daniel Spoerri and Jean Tinguely.

The American artist Larry Rivers and his wife Clarice were good friends of Niki and Jean. Inspired by Clarice’s pregnancy, Niki made her first ”Nana” sculpture, a creation that would mark a turning point of her artistry. The ”Nanas” were large-scale and brightly coloured sculptures of female figures, enduring emblems of maternity and femininity. The first ”Nanas”, created in papier-mâché, yarn and cloth, were exhibited at Alexander Iolas Gallery in Paris in 1965. The following year was of great importance, for Niki as well as for the Swedish art scene. Niki and Jean were invited to Sweden by Pontus Hultén, the director of the Museum of Modern art in Stockholm. Together with their Swedish friend and colleague, Per-Olof Ultvedt, they will forever be written into the history with the great exhibition “Hon – en katedral” (She – a Cathedral). They created a monumental building-sized reclining woman in the shape of a ”Nana” in bright colours. The exhibition visitors entered the black painted inside between her legs and the interior consisted of different spaces with moving sculptures, a cinema, an exhibition of fake paintings, a milk bar, a fishpond and a playground. The shocking exhibition gained worldwide attraction and was covered by an extensive number of magazines and newspapers. The exhibition lasted for three months and was visited by more than 100.000 people.

From this point and onwards the ”Nanas” continued to play a central role in the artistry of Niki de Saint Phalle and became her main contribution to the art world. Niki continued to create various versions of theNanas” and those made in the 1960’s are perhaps the most interesting ones, just like all the art works produced by the members of the French Nouveaux Réalist group. The present sculpture painted in red and blue colours, ”Mini Nana Acrobate”, was signed and dated by the artist in 1968, the year in which the sculpture was conceived. With their voluminous, generous and vivid bodies in the most shining bright colours, the ”Nanas” radiate a positive sense of mind and playfulness. Captured in different postures: dancing, playing, on their hands or as part of different group compositions they embrace life. As proud role models of the archetypal female figure they symbolize the greatness of femininity, of motherhood and of liberation.

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Jeanna Ahlin


Modern och samtida konst
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Sofie Bexhed


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