Friday, July 13, 2012

Jill Krementz covers Niki de Saint Phalle on Park

Les Trois Graces (1999)

Starting at 52nd Street and going north: three of Niki's signature Nanas frolicking on the grass.
Niki de Saint Phalle
Park Avenue

July 12th-November 15th, 2012
Park Avenue from 52nd Street to 60th Streets in New York City

Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002) was a prominent French-American artist, self-taught sculptor, painter, and filmmaker. Born in Neuilly Sur Seine, Saint Phalle died at the age of 71 in La Jolla, California. Jean Tinguely (1925-1991), the Swiss-born painter and sculptor, was her long-time partner and collaborator.

Through her work, the multi-faceted Saint Phalle created a unique universe that established her international reputation. Some of her best-known public sculptures are The Stravinsky Fountain next to the Centre Pompidou in Paris (1983), The Tarot Garden at Garvicchio in southern Tuscany (opened 1998), The Grotto in Hannover's Royal Herrenhausen Garden (2003, finished posthumously), and the Queen Califia's Magical Circle in California (2003).

Niki de Saint Phalle with Jean Tinguely at the Conservatory Garden, photographed by Jill Krementz (1968).
I first photographed Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely in 1968 when their sculptures were shown at Central Park's Conservatory Garden. I continued to take pictures of Niki over the years — in Paris, and at the renowned Chelsea Hotel where she hung out with Larry and Clarice Rivers.

Now, to mark the ten-year commemoration of the artist's death, there are nine monumental pieces on display at the Park Avenue Malls from 52nd Street to 60th Street. The sculptures, towering as high as 16 feet and as wide as 13 feet, are made of polyester resin, with mosaics of ceramic, mirror, and stained glass.

They are as pretty at night as during the day because of the magical manner that the inlaid bits of mosaic reflect the headlights from the passing cars. Tuesday night, returning home by cab from the Whitney via Park Avenue, I took it upon myself to act as the driver's docent. At the end of my guided tour he said: "Wow, that was great. I've learned so much. I don't know why they never show you the good things on TV. It's always just the muggings and the shootings." So I gave him my New York Social Diary card and told him to log on. I hope he's reading this.

The retrospective exhibition is sponsored by the Nohra Haime Gallery and the Niki Charitable Art Foundation, and is organized under the auspices of the Sculpture Committee of the Fund for Park Avenue and the Public Art Program of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. The Parks Department's Art & Antiquities division, under the leadership of director Jonathan Kuhn, oversees the placement, display, and care of permanent and temporary art in all the city's parks.
The artist's voluptuous "Nanas" flaunt exaggerated female figures, calling to mind the many corpulent fertility goddesses venerated by ancient civilizations.
Grand Step Totem (2001)

A work from Niki's sculpture garden, Queen Califia's Magical Circle in Escondido, California.

This installation coincides with the ten-year commemoration of Niki de Saint Phalle's death.
Details from Grand Step Totem.
Rear view of Grand Step Totem.
Baseball Player (1999), a tribute to Tony Gwynn. Basketball Player (1999), honoring Michael Jordan.
Jonathan Kuhn, Director of Art & Antiquities for New York City Parks & Recreation, stands in front of Niki de Saint Phalle's Basketball Player in center mall at 56th Street and Park Avenue. Malcolm Pinckney is the official photographer for the Parks Department.
Nana On a Dolphin (1998)
Detail of dolphin's eye.
The Bathers, 1983
A spider on the blue base of The Bathers.
Miles Davis (1999)

One of two works from the Black Heroes series paying tribute to famous jazz musicians.
Louis Armstrong (1999)
Serpent Tree, 1999

Saint Phalle's sculptures often explore archetypical representations of femininity repeated throughout myth and history. In Saint Phalle's own words, "I use tales and myths as a springboard to create fantastic creatures of my imagination."

Saint Phalle is referencing universal female symbols with her frequent depiction of sinuous snakes. Although most famously associated with Eve in Genesis, depictions of serpents have often been used to personify feminine power, both good and evil, in a variety of cultures.

At 60th Street we see this creature with nine coiling serpent heads, each poised to strike, projecting from a single base.
Niki de Saint Phalle with Jean Tinguely, photographed by Jill Krementz in New York City (1968).

Tinguely (1925-1991) was a Swiss painter and sculptor. He is best known for his sculptural machines.

Works by Saint Phalle and her partner and collaborator Jean Tinguely were shown at Central Park's Conservatory Garden in 1968.

Text and photographs © by Jill Krementz: all rights reserved.
Contact Jill Krementz here.

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