A New Exhibition Explores the Relationship Between Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely—the “Bonnie and Clyde of the Art World”
On view now at Samuelis Baumgarte Gallery in Bielefeld, Germany, the exhibition brings together 40 works from a 40-year-span.
Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely were one of the most colorful artist duos of the 20th century. On-and-off partners in life and art, they were referred to by many as “Bonnie and Clyde of the Art World,” known for their chic look, adventurous—even tumultuous—relationship, and, above all, their restless yen for creative collaboration.
“Worldviews or The Irony of Things,” a new show on view now at Samuelis Baumgarte Gallery in Bielefeld, Germany, sheds some light on the artists’ relationship, from their collaborative works to the influences that they had on each other’s individual practices. The exhibition brings together 40 works, dating from 1959 to 2000. It’s an eclectic grouping, but such is to be expected given the two artists’ prolific careers and their capacity for self-reinvention.
Included are de Saint Phalle’s late “Nana” sculptures—colorful, curvy female figures made from resin—as well as a selection of her drawings from the late 1970s through the ‘90s. They’re paired with Tinguely’s illustrations from the ’70s, mixed-media collages from the ’80s, and kinetic sculptures from late ’80s and early ’90s. The exhibition is accompanied by a 96-page catalogue with a timeline of the artists’ lives and careers.
De Saint Phalle and Tinguely first met in Paris in 1956. Tinguely was married to his first wife at the time, fellow artist Eva Aeppli, while de Saint Phalle was still with her first husband, Harry Mathews. The two began working together not long after, when de Saint Phalle asked her future partner to create an armature for her first sculpture.
The two moved into an artist colony together in 1960—the beginning of a period of time that would prove to be very influential for both artists. They shared a small studio space and soon became integrated into the Nouveau Réalisme group of artists—a crew that included Arman, Christo, and Yves Klein. During this time, they were also introduced to many notable European artists, such as Marcel Duchamp, Salvador Dalí, as well as a number of American artists exploring Paris—like Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Larry Rivers.
In 1966, de Saint Phalle and Tinguely completed one of their best-known early collaborations. Working with Finnish artist Per Olof Ultvedt, they installed a monumental reclining female nude sculpture titled Hon (‘she’ in Swedish) in the entrance hall of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. Visitors entered the sculpture through a door positioned at the woman’s vagina, and inside there was a theater, a fish pond, and a milk bar, among other features. Hon was a critical success, putting the two artists on the international map. They would go on to collaborate on a great many projects, including de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden in Tuscany, the Stravinsky Fountain in Paris, and the 1976 film Un rêve plus long que la nuit.
Niki and Jean married in the summer of 1971. Their relationship as friends and creative partners lasted up until Tinguely’s death in 1991, though they separated as a couple long before that.
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