Over the New Year, I dropped into the GOMA who are holding an exhibition of Niki de Saint Phalle work, a highly appropriate location given that she designed the mirrored entranceway and mirrored tympanum (if you like me are baffled as to what a tympanum is, I can now enlighten you that it is a triangular or semi-circular decorative wall surface over a door) of the GOMA itself.
Niki de Saint Phalle was born in France in 1930, educated in New York (appropriately enough she was apparently expelled from boarding school for painting the fig leaves on the school statuary red), and worked as a model for some time before becoming an artist after having a nervous breakdown. Starting with collage and working through painting into sculpture. Throughout her life she used art as a mean to express and come to terms with her dreams and nightmares, and her artwork bears many hallmarks of the whimsy and horror that populate our unconscious minds. Her organic, self-taught style being well-suited to the archetypal subjects she often worked with.
The exhibition came about due to a donation to Glasgow Museums by art collectors Eric and Jean Cass, of 14 outworks and a host of related ephemera. These were added to the works by Saint Phalle that Glasgow Museums already owned, to create a colourful and compelling exhibition that gave visitors a proper feel for the variety of her career and work.
It was really nice to see her work in context, as all my previous encounters with her work (instantly recognisable as it was, even if I didn’t know her name previously). Because a great deal of her sculptures were created for outdoor display, her work is often seen in public parks (Over the years I’ve seen pieces I can now pinpoint as hers in parks in Paris and Brussels, high above me in Zürich Hauptbanhof and on the streets of Chicago) so doubtless I’m not the only visitor who has seen and admired her work without having a clue as to who the sculptor behind it was. This is the only exhibition I’ve reviewed for this project where I was familiar with the artists’ work prior to going to see it, albeit only in the sense that I saw the pictures on the website and responded ‘oooh, them, yes’. Oddly enough it provided the most autobiographical information and context of all the exhibits I’ve seen so far. Perhaps the curators presumed the familiarity of her work would draw a larger percentage of casual visitors who’d want to know more, as opposed to arty types who would already know.
Gaudi was an acknowledged influence on her work and it shows, her sculptures falling somewhere between Gaudi and the artwork for Yellow Submarine on the pop/art culture scale. Charming, colourful, playful and not a little sinister at the same time.
Niki de Saint Phalle: The Eric and Jean Cass Gift, is at the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow until 16th November 2013.