cover image What Is Now Known Was Once Only Imagined: An (Auto)biography of Niki de Saint Phalle

What Is Now Known Was Once Only Imagined: An (Auto)biography of Niki de Saint Phalle

Nicole Rudick. Siglio, $45 (268p) ISBN 978-1-938221-31-6

In this innovative and kaleidoscopic work, Rudick brings to life the irrepressible vitality of French-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle (1930–2002) by letting her subject speak for herself. Rather than present a monograph of her work, Rudick offers readers a fascinating “sensorial” trip (“free of commentary”) into Saint Phalle’s mind via an assemblage of her prolific art, writings, and “lousy little scribbles.” Together they snake their way through her life in New York and Europe, highlighting the influences that inspired her “buoyant[ly]” provocative paintings and sculptures. The narrative is arresting, as is Saint Phalle’s sardonic charm: she writes of her first feminist pangs as a young girl, her marriage to writer Harry Mathews, and a visit to a psychiatric ward that “was good... because I left a painter,” and candidly muses on the often volatile desire that fueled her craft (of her Tarot Garden in Italy, she remarks, “If I had not concretized my dreams into sculptures, I might have become possessed”). Both nightmarish and whimsical, the sketches displayed throughout offer titillating context to her most notorious works, among them 1966’s HON, a giant pagan goddess sculpture in Stockholm that was to be “entered by her sex” (“Wicked tongues said she was the biggest whore in the world”). This wondrous work does justice to a boundless artist. (Feb.)