American lovers of modern art are in for a treat with MAMAC’s loan of over 60 of the eccentric artist’s works to the world-famous Nelson-Atkins museum.

France and America, that’s an ongoing love affair ever since the French gifted New York City with the Statue of Liberty. Over the past two and a half centuries, many artists have traded shores for the other side of the Atlantic. The latest such event: a landmark exhibition at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri with 66 works by Niki de Saint Phalle, on loan from the MAMAC Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nice through July 21, 2024. These include many pieces that will be shown for the first time on American soil. The exhibition is enriched by loans from the Niki Charitable Art Foundation in Santee, California.


Ange (Jaune) – see credits below

This retrospective delves deep into the life and work of French-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002), a luminary of 20th-century art whose influence spanned continents and challenged artistic conventions. From her early paintings and assemblages to her monumental sculptures, the exhibition offers a comprehensive overview of her artistic evolution and the influences that shaped her worldview.

The collection comprises works from Niki de Saint Phalle’s early career, such as “Scorpion and Stag” (1956-58), major assemblages like “Tir assemblage” (untitled), 1961-62, as well as the renowned shooting paintings by the artist, including “Shoe Shot” from 1961. The delicate “Venus” from 1964 heralds the beginning of Niki de Saint Phalle’s “Nanas” series. Lastly, the exhibition underscores the artist’s lifelong commitment to social justice issues: from the empowerment of women and their role in society to empathy for the struggles for civil rights of African-Americans, culminating in her fight against the stigmatization of AIDS patients, notably embodied in the “Obelisk Trilogy” (1987).

“Venus” – photo: Dana Anderson

“Venus” – photo: Dana Anderson

Born in France in 1930 to a French father and an American mother, Niki de Saint Phalle transcended convention to leave an indelible mark on the global cultural landscape. Her early years were fraught with personal challenges that profoundly shaped her artistic vision. Embracing creativity as both catharsis and rebellion, she embarked on a journey of self-discovery, ultimately pioneering a distinctive artistic language that defied traditional norms.

Saint Phalle’s work is characterized by its boldness, its defiance of societal constraints, and its celebration of the human spirit. Who isn’t familiar with “the Nanas”, the whimsical hallmark of the Franco-American artist’s creative expression? Characterized by their exaggerated, voluptuous forms and vibrant colours, these emblematic sculptures exude a sense of playfulness and celebration of femininity, challenging traditional notions of beauty and gender roles.

Emerging in the 1960s, the autodidact swiftly gained prominence for her audacious installations, vibrant sculptures, and immersive environments, each pulsating with a spirit of uninhibited joy. “I love the round, the curves, the undulation, the world is round, the world is a breast,” was her credo.

Dawn yellow_at Kimball Ed EE(JS) 1

Dawn (Yellow) – see credits below

Yet, Saint Phalle’s artistic journey transcended mere aesthetic expression. Fueled by a deep-seated empathy for the marginalized and the oppressed, she employed her art as a vehicle for social activism, tackling issues ranging from racial injustice to HIV/AIDS stigma with unwavering conviction. Often her engagement for a cause stemmed from personal experience or tragedies in her circle, like the AIDS deaths of several people closest to her. Her monumental works, such as the Tarot Garden in Tuscany, stand as testament to her belief in the transformative power of creativity to engender societal transformation and foster human connection.

Throughout her career, the artist remained steadfast in her dedication to challenging the status quo, breaking down barriers, and championing the cause of inclusivity and compassion. “Saint Phalle is one of the late twentieth century’s great creative personalities who was ahead of her time,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, Director & CEO of the Nelson-Atkins. “This exhibition presents the arc of her career from societal rage to communal joy and celebration.”

Photo - Dana Anderson

Photo – Dana Anderson

Christian Estrosi, Mayor of Nice, underscores the international significance of the exhibition: “MAMAC is embarking on a new chapter in its history, a fantastic new cycle of traveling exhibitions,” he said. “After Toulouse, Houston and San Diego in the United States, as well as Norway, Switzerland and Germany, Niki de Saint Phalle will once again be in the limelight in one of the most famous museums on the American continent.”

Saint Phalle’s ties to Nice, France, are significant, with the city playing a pivotal role in her artistic development. During her year-long stay in 1953 she experimented with new techniques and themes that would later define her oeuvre. Today, her legacy is celebrated through a permanent exhibition at the MAMAC. Nice’s flagship museum has one of the world’s three leading collections of Niki de Saint Phalle works, thanks to the artist’s donation of 190 works ranging from her first paintings and assemblages of the 1950s to the very first camera paintings of the early 1960s, including the iconic “nanas” and brides, as well as her prolific etchings. A year before her death in 2002, the artist donated 190 works to MAMAC and the city of Nice.


MAMAC Nice (see credit below)

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO, USA

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO, USA, courtesy of the museum

The Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City was founded in 1933 through the estates of William Rockhill Nelson and Mary McAfee Atkins who valued art and culture. Over the nine decades of its existence it has built a national and international reputation as one of the finest art museum in the United States, providing access to its renowned collection of more than 42,000 art objects. It is best known for its Asian art, European and American paintings, photography, modern sculpture, and Native American and Egyptian galleries. With intention and planning, the Nelson-Atkins has deepened its commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity from its very beginning.

It is the same spirit shared by Niki de Saint Phalle. Through her art, she not only challenged conventions but also sparked conversations, bridged divides, and inspired change, leaving an indelible mark on the art world and beyond. The show dedicated to her, “Rebellion and Joy” offers a compelling opportunity to engage with the life and work of a visionary artist whose impact transcends generations.

another grey line

Lead image Niki de Saint Phalle: Rebellion and Joy, on view April 27, 2024 – July 21, 2024, in the featured exhibition galleries of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO. Media Services photographer, Dana Anderson; all other images as credited

Niki de Saint Phalle (French-American, 1930 –2002). Ange (jaune) [Angel (Yellow)], 1987. Serigraphy, 27 ½ x 19 ¾ inches. MAMAC, Nice, France; Gift of the artist, 2001. © 2024 NIKI CHARITABLE ART FOUNDATION. All rights reserved.

Niki de Saint Phalle (French-American, 1930 –2002). Dawn (Yellow), 1995. Painted polyester, 56 11/16 × 46 1/16 × 27 15/16 inches. Private Collection, courtesy Niki Charitable Art Foundation, Santee, California.
© 2024 NIKI CHARITABLE ART FOUNDATION. All rights reserved.

Photo of MAMAC Nice By Spielvogel – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

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