What Is Now Known Was Once Only Imagined

What Is Now Known Was Once Only Imagined

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Known best for her exuberant, often large-scale sculptural works that celebrate the abundance and complexity of female desire, imagination and creativity, Niki de Saint Phalle viewed making art as a ritual, a performance—a process connecting life to art. This unconventional, illuminated biography, told in the first person in Saint Phalle's voice and her own hand, dilates large and small moments in Saint Phalle's life which she sometimes reveals with great candor, at other times carefully unwinding her secrets. Nicole Rudick, in a kind of collaboration with the artist, has assembled a gorgeous and detailed mosaic of Saint Phalle's visual and textual works from a trove of paintings, drawings, sketches and writings, many previously unpublished or long unavailable, that trace her mistakes and successes, her passions and her radical sense of joy. Saint Phalle's invocation—her "bringing to life"—writes Rudick, "is an apt summation of the overlap of Saint Phalle’s life and art: both a bringing into existence and a bringing to bear. These are visions from the frontiers of consciousness."

Born in France, Niki de Saint Phalle (1930–2002) was raised in New York and began making art at age 23, pursuing a revelatory vision informed both by the monumental works of Antonin Gaudí and the Facteur Cheval, and by aspects of her own life. In addition to her Tirs (“shooting paintings”) and Nanas and her celebrated large-scale projects—including the Stravinsky Fountain at the Centre Pompidou, Golem in Jerusalem and the Tarot Garden in Tuscany—Saint Phalle produced writing and works on paper that delve into her own biography: childhood and her break with her family, marriage to Harry Mathews, motherhood, a long collaborative relationship with Jean Tinguely, numerous health crises and her late, productive years in Southern California. Saint Phalle has most recently been the subject of retrospectives at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, in 2015, and at MoMA P.S.1, in 2021.

Nicole Rudick is a critic and an editor. Her writing on art, literature and comics has been published in the New York Review of Books, the New York Times, the New Yorker, Artforum and elsewhere. She was managing editor of the Paris Review for nearly a decade. She is the editor, most recently, of a new edition of Gary Panter’s legendary comic Jimbo: Adventures in Paradise (New York Review Comics, 2021).

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