Painting by Niki de Saint Phalle
“Pirodactyl over New York,” a “shooting painting” from 1962 by Niki de Saint Phalle

The first special exhibition in 2022 after the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego opens its expanded La Jolla galleries will feature beloved artist Niki de Saint Phalle’s innovative work from the 1960s.

Debuting at the Menil Collection in Houston in September, the exhibition will be the first to focus on the artist’s experimental and prolific work during this decade, from the famous “shooting paintings,” created by shots from a .22 caliber rifle, to the exuberant sculptures of women known as Nanas.

Nana sculpture
“Madame ou Nana verte au sac noir,” a “Nana” sculpture by Niki de Saint Phalle

“While local audiences are familiar with Saint Phalle’s later fantastical works of public art, we in Southern California have had less exposure to her radical work of the 1960s, much of which is held in European collections,” explained MCASD Curator Jill Dawsey.

“Saint Phalle had an important relationship to this region. In the early 1960s, she staged several shooting sessions in Los Angeles, in what were among the earliest instances of performance art in Southern California,” added Dawsey.

The artist was born in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, raised in New York City, and lived in France and the United States. She gained prominence in the early 1960s as the only woman member of the New Realists, a group of French avant-gardists that included Jean Tinguely, Yves Klein, Arman, and others.

“Within the male-dominated artistic circles on both sides of the Atlantic, her place in art history has been hard-fought,” said Michelle White, senior curator at the Menil Collection. “Her artwork from this time constitutes some of the most advanced work being done around emergent ideas of participatory art and was prophetic of feminist concerns related to the critique of painting and the representation of the body that will drive art in the decades to come.”

Saint Phalle later settled in San Diego, where her giant outdoor sculptures like Sun God on the UC San Diego campus and well known and loved.

The new Saint Phalle exhibition will arrive in La Jolla in the spring of 2022, though specific dates have not been publicly set.

MCASD broke ground in late 2018 for a $95 million renovation and expansion in La Jolla that will graduple gallery space. It is expected to open in late 2021.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.