After shuttering for the pandemic, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego reopened in April with its first curated exhibition, “Niki de Saint Phalle in the 1960s.” The show features two of the artist’s signature series: the Tirs “shooting paintings” and the female sculptures she called Nanas. Born in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, Saint Phalle grew up in New York City before moving to Paris in 1952, where she suffered a nervous breakdown and began painting as therapy. The sole female member of the Nouveau Réalisme Group (others include Christo and Yves Klein), Saint Phalle relocated to San Diego in the 1990s, where she lived until her death in 2002.
“While local audiences are familiar with Saint Phalle’s later fantastical works of public art, we in Southern California have had less exposure to her radical work of the 1960s, which put into circulation strikingly original representations of female agency and volition that resonate strongly in our own moment,” explains Jill Dawsey, PhD, senior curator at MCASD. “Saint Phalle had an important relationship to this region. In the early 1960s, she staged several shooting sessions in Los Angeles, in what were among the earliest instances of performance art in Southern California.”
Like Klein, who invented his eponymous ultramarine in 1956, Saint Phalle is known for her use of blue. Her calling card was cobalt, which she described as “the color of joy and luck.” In 1982, Saint Phalle was developing her own fragrance in New York in a shared design studio where La Prairie’s team was simultaneously creating its skin care line. Inspired by Saint Phalle’s use of cobalt, La Prairie chose the striking shade for its now iconic Skin Caviar Collection.
As a tribute to this fateful encounter 40 years ago, La Prairie is lead patron of the new exhibition. “This collaboration with MCASD is a meaningful opportunity for us to share Niki’s philosophy with the world and associate her spirit—pioneer, perseverant, strong, feminist—to the one of La Prairie,” says Nicholas Munafo, president of La Prairie North America (laprairie.com). “We are particularly proud to be able to support the life, oeuvre, and cultural legacy of the artist we consider to be a pivotal encounter for our house.”
The exhibition runs until July 17. mcasd.org