Prelude to a day in Paradise
Years ago I saw my first Nana by Niki de Saint Phalle. It was 1972, I was thirteen and visinting the Centre Pompidou in Paris with my sister and my aunt Marie France. In the big open hall at the entry of the museum there was a colossal woman in a dress carrying a small purse. I posed in fromt of the statue -- an ant next to the voluptuous nana in clothing. I was hooked. In the coming years I watched for her work. There was a statue of hers in a show on the Champs Elysees. Marie France took me to see it. It was amazing, a distillation of womanhood, a woman clothed in bright colors and designs, her curves uncovered, not hidden by the folds of clothing.
The nanas were about celebrating woman, a feminist's argument that the beauty wasn't in the rail thin image of popular culture (though the artist was rail thin). I loved them -- they made me feel beautiful. I cannot visit Paris without making my personal pilgrimage to the Stravinsky Fountain -- filled with her sculptures alongside those of her husband and partner Jean Tinguely.
In the early nineties there was a show of her paintings in a small art gallery in New York. These paintings were her mechanical ones, inhabited by dolphions and cacti, set in deserts and oceans. They were strongly influenced by her experience of illness, her life in California. I went to the opening in the gallery and was blown away by these works on such a small scale compared to the work I knew -- but containing her same iconography, the same messages -- just on a much more intimate scale.