A Beautiful Mind

Keziah Weir, Vanity Fair

reviews, 02/20/22

“The Accounting of a life is not the simple accounting of facts,” writes Nicole Rudick in the introduction to her new book, What Is Now Known Was Once Only Imagined: An (Auto)biography of Niki de Saint Phalle, out from Siglio. Rudick weaves selections from the Niki Charitable Art Foundation—the Franco-American artist’s published and previously unseen letters, memoirs, art, and sketches—into a posthumous narrative; a ghostly collaboration, “free of commentary and interpretation,” with the artist herself. It’s left to the reader to connect Saint Phalle’s Nana figures, colorful, curvaceous, and taking up space, with her lifelong interrogation of what it means to be a woman: “T got the message that men had power, and I wanted it,” she wrote in a 1991 letter to a curator, but later describes her guilt at “abandon|[ing] my children for my work, the way men often do.” Likewise, Saint Phalle notes that Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man made her “hyper aware” of America’s systemic racism; 30 years later she would write and illustrate a book called AIDS: You Can’t Catch It Holding Hands.

What Is Now Known contains disturbing biographical details, including Saint Phalle’s painful account of her father raping her when she was 11. Her anger—and the exorcism of it—manifested in so-called “shooting paintings,” sculptural canvases of found objects, paint-filled balloons, and spray paint cans covered in white: She’d shoot them and colors would drip like blood. These works culminated in her 1972 film Daddy, a Sylvia Plath-esque exploration of patricide. “It’s not your moment any longer, Daddy,” she says. “We intend to enjoy our freedom and our power, as you enjoyed yours.”

Originally publishing in the February 2022 issue.

see also

✼ natalie’s upstate weather report:

October 25, 2022 — In the rearview mirror: I Will Keep My Soul has gone on press, the new website is launched, NY Art Book Fair hurricane has subsided. Now—finally—looking toward the horizon which happens, at this very moment, to be the blue on blue of California sky and Pacific ocean. But returning to the melancholia of fall and coming days of gray to read, read, read.


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