Born Catherine Marie-Agnes Fal de Saint Phalle at Neuilly-sur-Seine, second
of five children of Jeanne Jacqueline, nee Harper and Andre Marie de Saint
Phalle, a banker
Her father looses all his money in the stock market crash of 1929. She
and elder brother are separated from parents; they are sent to live with
paternal grandparents in the Nievre area of France for the next three years.
Family reunited in Greenwich, Connecticut. Summers are spent in France
with American maternal grandfather Donald Harper at his chateau "Filerval"
with gardens designed by Le Notre. Experience of two ways of life influence
Family moves to New York city. Marie-Agnes, now called Niki, starts school
at the Convent of the Sacred Heart. Her first visual influences are comic
books, and visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Throughout her youth
she continually questions authority and is sent to a succession of schools.
At the Brearly School, she becomes interested in the work of Edgar Allan
Poe, Shakespeare, and the Greek tragedies. Discovers Russian authors; passionately
reads all the Dostoevsky. She acts in school plays and begins to write
her own poetry and plays. She is dismissed from Brearly for painting the
fig leaves red on the school's statuary. Graduates from a private all girl
school, Old Field School, Maryland.
Works as fashion model for Vogue, Life, Harper's Bazaar, Elle, and other
French and American magazines.
At eighteen elopes with Harry Mathews. Moves to Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Begins to paint experimenting with different media and style while husband
studies music at Harvard University. First child Laura is born April 1951.
Moves to Paris and studies theatre and acting. Husband Harry Mathews continues
his studies in music, only later to become a writer, and a founder of the
literary magazine Locus Solus. They share the upbringing of their daughter,
and travel through France, Italy and Spain visiting museums and cathedrals.
She is impressed by the concept of a cathedral as a 'collective ideal'
realized through the efforts of many; this later becomes an important aspect
in her own work.
Hospitalized in Nice with nervous breakdown and paints while recuperating
from this crisis. She re-evaluates the direction of her life and begins
to seriously consider communicating through her art.
In Paris, she is introduced to American painter Hugh Weiss who becomes
a friend and mentor, encouraging her to remain painting in her self-taught
style. Moves to Deya, Majorca, Spain where son Philip was born in may 1955.
Reads Proust, visits Madrid and Barcelona where she discovers Antonio Gaudi
and is deeply affected by this experience which opens many possibilities
of the use of diverse material and object-trouves as structural elements
in sculpture and architecture. In particular, Gaudi's "Parc Guell" is a
special revelation that makes her determined to one day create her own
garden of joy combining mart and nature.
Returns to Paris. Meets sculptor Jean Tinguely and his wife Eva Aeppli
for the first time. Both are supportive of her ideas. Asks Tinguely to
weld an armature for her first sculpture.
Frequently visits the collections of the Louvre. Interested in the
work of Paul Klee, Henri Matisse, Henri Rousseau, and Pablo Picasso. Inspired
by the postman, Joseph Ferdinand Cheval's architecture "Le Palais Ideal",
in Hauterives, France.
Lives in Lans-en-Vercors in the French Alps with family. First solo exhibition
of paintings in St. Gall, Switzerland in 1956. Paints and explores various
collage elements. Meets a number of contemporary writers including John
Ashbery and Kenneth Koch through Harry Mathews.
Introduced to contemporary art in exhibition at the Musee d'Art Moderne
de la Ville de Paris that includes works by Jackson Pollock, Willem de
Kooning, Raubert Raushenberg and Jasper Johns.
Seperates from husband. Children live with their father. Sets up studio
and concentrates solely on work. Assemblages take on an angry aspect-a
new series 'target' paintings actually have darts thrown at them.
End of 1960 moves to 11 Impasse Rosin, Paris and lives and shares a
studio with Jean Tinguely; they will collaborate and assist each other
on projects throughout their long association. Constantin Brancusi is a
neighbor at Impasse Rosin. Through Tinguely, meets Pontus Hulten then director
of the Moderna Museet, Stockholm. Hulten includes her in major exhibitions
organized at the time. Through his foresight, the Moderna Museet will acquire
pivotal pieces from throughout her career to form the most comprehensive
collection of her work.
Because of her bicultural background and the direction in her own art,
she becomes a kind of ambassador between the avant-gardes in France and
the United States.
Expands on the 'target' paintings with a series of 'shooting' paintings
or tirs. It is through acts of destruction that these works are created-the
assemblages are shot with a pistol, rifle or cannon by herself or others,
producing spontaneous effects and the dispersion of colors. As they evolve,
the tirs become larger, more elaborate in concept and include elements
of spectacle and performance.
Pierre Restany, founder of the Nouveau Realistes, attends first public
tir, and invites her to become a member. Becomes involved in the ideas,
festivals and activities of this group which includes Arman, Cesar, Christo,
Gerard Deschamps, Francois Dufrene, Raymond Hains, Yves Klein, Martial
Raysse, Mimmo Rotella, Daniel Spoerri, Jean Tinguely, Jacques Villegle.
First solo exhibition in Paris at Galerie J with assemblages, tirs,
and a public shooting area. Exhibits in group shows in Europe and the United
States. Becomes friends with American artists staying in Paris including
Robert Raushenberg, Jasper Johns, Larry Rivers and his wife Clarice, and
will participate in various projects with them over the years.
She and Tinguely are introduced to Salvator Dali by Marcel Duchamp.
Travels to Spain with Tinguely for celebration honoring Dali, and they
make a life-size exploding bull with plaster, paper and fireworks for the
arena at Figueras.
Major tir "King Kong" created in LA., sponsored by Dawn Gallery; later
acquired by Moderna Museet, Stockholm. Her love of horror movies provides
source of inspiration for this and other works. Reviews.
She and Tinguely find an old country inn outside of Paris to live and
work, l'Auberge du Cheval Blanc, Soisy sur Ecole, France. Begins work on
figurative reliefs -confrontational depictions of women, some giving birth
or vivisectioned. Creates other figurative assemblages including freestanding
dragons, monsters and brides presented in first solo show at Hanover Gallery,
London. Travels to new York with Jean Tinguely and stays at the Chelsea
Hotel, taking part in New York art activities.
Inspired by the pregnancy of her friend Clarisse Rivers, she begins considering
archetypal female figures in relation to her thinking on the position of
women in society. Her updated version of 'everywoman' are named 'Nanas'.
The first of these freely posed forms, made of papier-mache, yarn and cloth
are exhibited at the Alexander Iolas Gallery, Paris, September 65. For
this show Iolas publishes her first artist book that includes her handwritten
words in combination with her drawings of 'Nanas'. Encouraged by Iolas,
she starts a highly productive output of graphic work that accompanies
exhibitions -invitations, posters, books and writings.
In 1966 collaborates with Tinguely and Per Olof Ultlvedt on a large
scale sculpture installation, "hon-en katedral". for Moderna Museet, Stockholm.
The outer form of "hon" is a giant, reclining 'Nana', whose internal environment
is entered from between her legs. The immense public reaction to the work
is written about in magazines and newspapers throughout the world. The
interactive quality of the "hon" combined with a continued fascination
with fantastic types of architecture insensifies her resolve to see her
own architectural dreams realized. Meets Swiss artist Rico Weber, during
construction of the "hon". Over the next ten years, Weber will be an important
assistant /collaborator for both she and Jean Tinguely. Designs decors
and costumes for two theatrical productions - a ballet by Roland Petit,
and an adaptation of Aristophanes' play "Lysistrata".
Together with Tinguely receives commission from the French Government to
make a sculpture for "Expo '67" in Monreal, Canada. Their collaboration,
"Le Paradis Fantastique", a combination of their distinct styles, is installed
on the roof of the French Pavilion. After "Expo'67", attempts fail to find
a permanent home for the sculpture in either France or the United States.
Through the efforts of Pontus Hulten, the piece is saved from destruction,
and acquired by moderna Museet where it is installed. Working on the "Paradis
Fantastique", she is exposed to toxic fumes produced by polyester. This
and other materials used in her work cause severe damage to her lungs,
that result in recurrent health problems.
First retrospective, "Les Nanas au Pouvoir", is organized at the Stedelijk
Museum, Amsterdam. Creates a number of new pieces for the show that emphasize
a direction toward architectural and functional design -"Nana Dream House"
and "Nana Fountain", and the placement of elements to form a sculptural
tableau. "The Bride's Dream".
Writes story that she adapts with Rainer Von Diez into a play, ICH.
Designs decors, costumes, and poster for the production that is presented
at the Staatstheater, Kassel, Germany, June 1968. Designs 'Nana' inflatables,
a multiple in plastic, that are produced and distributed in the United
States. Publishes series of semi-autobiographical serigraphs that are executed
in a pictographic style combining images, letters and writing into a complete
narrative. Exhibits extensively in the United States.
First permanent architectural project is private commission for a summer
residence in the South of France. The project consists of three buildings,
each uniquely shaped, detailed and painted, completed in 1971. Continues
involvement in 'fantastic' architectural projects requiring her total commitment
in all stages of planning and execution. Sculpture "Black Venus" acquired
by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and exhibited in museum's
show, "Contemporary American Sculpture, Selection II", April 69. Travels
to India and Egypt -these cultural experiences broaden the context of visual
associations used in her work. Tinguely begins work on his major sculptural
project, "LA Tete" or "Le Cyclop", Milly-la Foret, France. Declared a monument
of France, this work in progress for over twenty years is a collaboration
of many artists.
Participates in the "10th anniversary of the Nouveau Realistes Festival"
in Milan November 70. She shoots an outdoor tir as part of the 'action
Marries Jean Tinguely, July 13, 1971. They travel together to Morocco.
Granddaughter, Bloum, born to Laura and Laurent Condominas in Bali 71.
Receives a public commission to create a an architecture for children in
Jerusalem, "Golem", a giant monster head with tongue slides which is completed
in 72. The following year receives a private commission to build an architecture
for children, "Dragon", in Belgium.
In 1972 begins productive association with art fabricator, Haligon,
France, for her large scale sculptures and work in editions. Makes first
jewelry design for GEM Montebello Laboratory, Milan.
Exhibits new sculptural tableaux "Devouring Mothers" and the following
year "Les Funerailles du Pere". These works are based on ideas of a child's
perspective of estragement from the world of adults.
Acts in film "Daddy" that she wrote, produced and directed with Peter
Whitehead. The film is a surreal, psychological exploration of a relationship
between a father and a tri-part character of the daughter as child , adolescent
and adult. Official premiere September 73 as part of the Film Society of
Lincoln Center's "IIth New York Filmm Festival". Designs the film's festival's
program cover with reference to three noted women directors.
Builds three large scale' Nanas' for permanent site near town hall in Hannover,
Germany. The city names them Sophie, Charlotte and Caroline in honor of
three historically distinguished women from Hannover.
Exhibits maquettes of realized and unrealized architectural projects,
creates artist book and invitation to accompany the show. Hospitalized
with a serious lung ailment. Lives in the Swiss mountains to regain her
health. Reads Gaston Bachelar, Rainer Maria Rilke and Konstandinos Kavafy.
There she meets a friend she had known in New York in the 1950's, Marella
Caracciolo Agnelli, to whom she confides her ultimate dream-to someday
build a sculpture garden based on her interpretations of symbols from the
Tarot. Her friend's brothers, Carlo and Nicola Caracciolo, offer a parcel
of their land in Tuscany, Italy as a site for her dream. The massive undertaking
of the garden will consume her thoughts and energies for nearly twenty
Writes, directs, produces and acts in the film "Un Reve Plus Long que la
Nuit". The production includes the talents and participation of her daughter
Laura Condominas, Jean Tinguely, Daniel Spoeri, Lunguinbul, Eva Aeppli,
Marina Karella, Andree Putman, and others. In 1975, her eighteen element
sculptural tableau "Last Night I Had a Dream" is installed on the exterior
of the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, for an arts festival.
Returns to Switzerland for a period of time. Develops ideas for the
imagery that will carry the special mystic meanings, energies, and associations
of the tarot to the site of her planned contemplative, sculpture garden.
Beginning of a close and long friendship with assistant/collaborator
Ricardo Menon, who will be with her for many years.
Land is cleared and foundations dug at site in Tuscany formally named "Giardino
dei Tarocchi". Makes first models related to the Tarot figures that will
be represented in the Garden.
Becomes interested in the idea of linear sculpture-drawings in space
and makes the "Skinnys". This series of totem-like pieces often have colored
lights and elements suspended by string. Begins to design furniture and
other functional objects with serpents and figurative forms.
Lives for a while in Malibu, California and conceives a series of maquettes
based on new ideas for architectural fantasies. These works are first exhibited
at Gimpel & Weitzenhffer, New York, and then travels in the United
Has first solo show in Japan at Gallery Watari, Tokyo.
The symbols of the Tarot serve as guide in the creation of the Garden.
Construction begins on the first architectural sculpture "La Papesse",
representing female creativity and strength. Spends the major part of the
next ten years on site receiving assistance from many friends and supporters.
Jean Tinguely together with Rico Weber and Seppi Imhof beguin welding the
iron understructures for the first group of enlarged Tarot Figures; this
work involving special engineering skills for each piece, is taken over
and completed by Dutch artist, Doc Wilsen. Local residents are hired and
over the years, their efforts will be important to the project's success.
The Ulm Museum organizes the first retrospective devoted to her graphic
work. Permanently installs the sculpture "Poet et sa Muse" at University
of Ulm. Honored with a major retrospective at Musee National d'art moderne,
Centre George Pompidou, Paris, that travels to Austria, Germany and Sweden.
First show is organized at experimental space, SPACE NIKI, Tokyo. Established
by Yoko Masuda, SPACE NIKI is an impressive collection of work in all media,
films and related material that further understanding of the artist and
Creates fragrance that bears her name for the Jaqueline Cochran Company,
New York. Designs distinctive blue and gold bottles and packaging with
logo of entwined serpents. Makes a promotional tour across the United States
for the perfume. The money from the perfume goes to finance the Garden.
Collaborates with Tinguely to create a foundation for the City of Paris
on a site beside the Centre George Pompidou. They combine their sculptural
elements in a fluid, moving setting, producing a joyous spontaneity-an
apt homage to Igor Stravinsky for whom the fountain is named.
Creates permanent sculpture "Sun God" for the University of California
at San Diego as part of the Stuart Collection. Designs print for a project
to support an alternative art space, the Temporary Contemporary, Los Angeles.
The work, in the form of a pictographic letter, expresses her early awareness
and concern for those afflicted by AIDS. Continues to be involved in efforts
to reverse the effects of ignorance and bias which allow this fatal virus
Suffers first of recurring, debilitating attacks of rheumatoid arthritis.
Exhibits the "Skinnys" at Gimpel & Weitzenhoffer, New York and at Gimpel
Fils, London. Moves into the "Empress", the Sphinx structure at the Tarot
Garden. This will be her home and studio for the next seven years during
a period of intense work of completing the Garden. Meets Verena Finocchiaro,
a ceramist teacher from Rome.
During these years, most of her time is spent on site of the Garden, where
many of the major works are nearing completion. Works based on her Tarot
figures, accompanied by an artist book, are exhibited at Gimpel Fils, London
and at Gimpel& Weitzenhoffer, New York.
The Victoria Albert Museum, London, acquires one of her perfume bottles
capped with entwined serpents. Produces a series of flower vases in the
shape of various animals. Meets Marcelo Zitelli who becomes an important
In collaboration with Dr. Silvio Barandun, writes and illustrates the
book "AIDS: You Can't Catch it Holding Hands". This informative text, presented
in a positive and compassionate format, is published in seven languages.
Receives commission from Mrs. Helen Schneider to create a fountain, "Snake
Tree", for the Schneider Children's Hospital, Long Island, New York. Has
major retrospectives at the Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturtiftung, Munich,
and Nassau County museum of Fine Art, Long Island, New York.
With Tinguely creates "Fontaine Chateau Chinon", commissioned by the French
President, Francois Mitterand. Alexandre Iolas her longtime friend, dies.
Begins to be represented in Paris by JGM Gallery and Gallery de France.
These galleries organize a number of exhibits that focus on different periods
in her career.
Begins use of bronze in new series of sculpture derived from ancient
Egyptian deities. Continues to develop images that have long interested
and impressed her, including' Nana' fountains, Tarot figures, phallic-like
obelisks, skulls, 'Skinny' lamps, and a series of pictorial reliefs made
in response to the killing of endangered species. The experience of the
Tarot Garden carries over in her use of materials, particularly brilliantly
colored or mirrored mosaics. Ricardo Menon her assistant/collaborator with
whom she shared a unique rapport, dies. Collaborates with son Philip Mathews
on an animated film based on her AIDS book. This film, drawings for the
film, and a revised edition of the AIDS book, published by Agence Francaise
de lutte contre le sida, are exhibited at the Musee des ARTS Decoratifs,
Paris, opening on international AIDS Awarness Day in November 1991. Designs
a giant kite "L'Oiseau Amoureux" for a worldwide exhibition of artists'
kite organized by Goethe Institute, Japan.
Makes maturate for "Le Temple Ideal", a place for worship for all religions.
This architecture was originally conceived in the early 1970's as a hopeful
alternative to the religious intolerance she observed while working in
Jerusalem. Receives commission from the city of Nimes, France, to build
this architectural sculpture. Because of politics, this project is never
realized. Jean Tinguely dies in Switzerland in August. In his honor, she
makes her first kinetic sculptures "Meta-Tinguelys".
The Kunst und Ausstellunghalle, Bonn organizes large restropective. Exhibits
in McLellan Galleries in Glasgow, the Musee d'art Moderne de la Ville de
Paris and the Musee D'Art et d'Histoire, Fribourg. Installs fountain "Oiseau
Amoureux" in Duisburg, Germany; and she creates a sculpture for Olympic
Museum "Les Footballeurs".
Moves to California, where she now lives and work. Realizes a series of
silkscreen, "California Diary" for Kornfeld editions. Receives the Caran
d'Ache. Shows in the James Goodman & Maxwell Davidson Galleries, New
York. Peter Schamoni realizes a long feature film about Niki entitled "Who
is the Monster, You or Me". Exhibit at the Kornfeld Gallery in Bern, Switzerland.
The Garden's first opening to the public during the month during the months
of July. Works on autobiography. Architect Mario Botta builds a gate/entrance
to the Garden. Works in collaboration with Mario Botta on a project to
build a sculpture park for children representing the arrival of Noah and
the Arch to the promised land. Official opening of the Tarot Garden to
the Public, May 15, 1998.