Saint Phalle

(There will be references to sexual bodies, both male and female, and to mansex. Admittedly, in the context of  art/sculpture and novels, but still… )

Saint Phalle — St. Phallus (with phalle as an alternative to phallus) — would appear to be a reference to, say, Jean Genet as a celebrant of phallic masculinity (though there are other candidates for sainthood in this department), but it is in fact my morning name today, referring to the artist Niki de Saint Phalle. She has been the subject of one previous posting here — from 2/18/15, “Saint Phalle phallic philately”, at first about her condom paintings, then more generally about her as an artist — but now her name has been called to my mind by two recent postings: from 4/24 “A mini-phal” (on mini-phal ‘miniature Phalaenopsis’) and from 4/25 “You can call me Al” (with a note on mini phal ‘miniature phallus’).

To come: more on Genet (and Sartre’s book Saint Genet); on Niki de Saint Phalle and her name; and on de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely as artists, separately and together.

(Note on pronunciation: de Saint Phalle was both French and American, so the Phalle in it has two different pronunciations: Phalle with [al] in French, [æɫ] in American English. The latter puts the name in the same bag as the two clippings phal in my recent postings.)

Jean Genet as Saint Phalle. Previously on this blog, from 8/29/13, “Kissing the rose”, on Genet’s book The Miracle of the Rose, in which anal intercourse figures prominently (along with the image of the anus as a rose), and also his book Querelle de Brest, a hymn to phallic masculinity (with its notoriously phallic poster for the film version, reproduced in that posting). The first book:


Most cover art for the book is quite plain, but this has a background with both symbolic — heart-shaped — buttocks and also circular figures that can serve symbolically as either anuses or testicles, so it hits all the Genet sexual bases.

On Sarte’s Saint Genet, from Wikipedia:


Saint Genet, Actor and Martyr (French: Saint Genet, comédien et martyr) is a book by the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre about the writer Jean Genet especially on his The Thief’s Journal. It was first published in 1952. Sartre described it as an attempt “to prove that genius is not a gift but the way out that one invents in desperate cases.” Sartre also based his character Goetz in his play The Devil and the Good Lord (1951) on his analysis of Genet’s psychology and morality. Sartre has been credited by David M. Halperin with providing, “a brilliant, subtle, and thoroughgoing study of the unique subjectivity and gender positioning of gay men”

Niki de Saint Phalle. A refresher on the artist, from Wikipedia:

Marie-Agnès de Saint Phalle was born on October 29, 1930 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, Hauts-de-Seine, near Paris. Her father was Count André-Marie Fal de Saint Phalle (1906–1967), a French banker, and her mother was an American, named Jeanne Jacqueline Harper (1908–1980). Marie-Agnès was the second of five children, and her double first cousin was French novelist Thérèse de Saint Phalle (Baroness Jehan de Drouas).

In 1960 she moved in with Swiss artist Jean Tinguely, who was becoming known for his kinetic sculptures; they collaborated on many projects and were married for a time.

On the family name, from a Telegraph obituary of 7/9/10:

Jaques, Marquis de Saint Phalle, who died on June 15 aged 92, was one of the last surviving French fighter pilots who flew for the small but daring Normandie-Niemen squadron of the Free French Air Force against the Luftwaffe on the Russian front.

De Saint Phalle, whose family has lived for centuries in the Burgundian Chateau de Montgoublin and traces its roots back to the 6th-century priest Saint Fal, had fled occupied France for England in the hope of flying Spitfires with the RAF on the Western front.

On the chateau, from French Wikipedia:

Le château de Montgoublin est un château d’agrément, remplaçant un édifice plus ancien sur la commune de Saint-Benin-d’Azy, dans le département de la Nièvre.

Seigneurs (liste non exhaustive)

1417 – Jean Grivel & Hugues de Grossouvre, chevalier

1658 – Charles Michel de Saint-Phalle , seigneur de Villefranche, Montgoublin, épouse le 21 juillet 1693 Marie-Anne Le Tonnelier de Breteuil

s. d. – Joseph-Louis de Saint-Phalle, chevalier, lieutenant-colonel, célibataire sans postérité, laisse le château à son neveu Charles

1699 – Charles de Saint-Phalle, chevalier, marquis

1880 – Philippe Arthur de Saint-Phalle

This material takes Saint Phalle back to Saint Fal; it looks like that at some point there was a Hellenizing respelling, so the family name has nothing to do with penises.

The artists. de Saint Phalle was largely self-taught; she was also bold and extravagant and fearlessly sexual in her art; some discussion in my earlier posting on her. And then Tinguely, from Wikipedia:

Jean Tinguely (22 May 1925 – 30 August 1991) was a Swiss painter and sculptor. He is best known for his sculptural machines or kinetic art, in the Dada tradition; known officially as metamechanics. Tinguely’s art satirized the mindless overproduction of material goods in advanced industrial society.

Born in Fribourg, Tinguely grew up in Basel, but moved to France in 1952 … to pursue a career in art. He belonged to the Parisian avantgarde in the mid-twentieth century

… His best-known work, a self-destroying sculpture titled Homage to New York (1960), only partially self-destructed at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, although his later work, Study for an End of the World No. 2 (1962), detonated successfully in front of an audience gathered in the desert outside Las Vegas.

He was sexually as well as mechanically playful, as in this sketch:


Jean Tinguely: page (59/100) from the portfolio La Vittoria (publ. by Sergio Tosi), 1970 – 1972

Yes, we’re back to penises.

Then de Saint Phalle and Tinguely together, most notably in creating the extraordinary giant sculpture Hon/Elle (in Swedish/French, ‘She’). The two in Paris in 1966, while the sculpture was being planned (photo by Monique Jacot):


de Saint Phalle looking glamorous (she worked as a fashion model in her teens), Tinguely looking French (Swiss)

Fans of the art work, which has various internal amenities (including amusements for kids):


From the de Saint Phalle website, on “The Biggest & Best Woman in the World” (June 3rd – September 8th, 1966):

50 years ago, HON, Niki de Saint Phalle’s first accessible sculpture, was inaugurated in Sweden at the Moderna Museet of Stockholm under the watchful eye of Pontus Hulten, director of the museum.

In 1966, Moderna Museet was the most innovative art center in Europe, and very likely in the world. Open from noon to 10 pm, accessible to blue collar workers, with a 27-year old visitor on average, it included a restaurant and a garden where you could drink coffee or beer in between two exhibitions. Back then avant-guard concerts, conference talks or Rauschenberg’s happenings were already part of the programmation like we are used to see today, at high profile cultural institutions. Later the same year, Claes Oldenburg would take over the space for his solo exhibition.

Conception of the HON: In a video interview, Pontus Hulten relates the conception process of HON. With a giggle he says : it was quite an experiment. For almost four years he hoped to organize an exhibition created on-site. Therefore, he spontaneously invited three international artists and friends to create an in-situ installation to be shown over the summer: Niki de Saint Phalle (French), Jean Tinguely (Suisse) and Per Olof Ultvedt (Swedish). In the same interview, Pet Olof Ultvedt reports: In 1966 we wanted to make big things, build castles and animate them! Niki was fascinated by Facteur Cheval’s castle in France and she wrote a long letter describing what we would do to build a castle inside the museum, full of life and animation.

On April 28th of 1966, Saint Phalle and Tinguely arrived in Stockholm. Hulten and Ultvedt went to pick them up at the airport and the discussions about what to do started right away. An Opera? A mechanical theater? A rite of passage made of twelve stations with a religious inspiration? Consensus was nowhere to be found among the crew, and after a day of unproductive discussions, doubt and anxiety crept in. The crew was so discouraged about not finding the right idea, they considered the alternative of giving up and flying to Russia!

On the second day, in the car, Hulten threw up the idea of making a giant “nana” similar in type to Niki de Saint Phalle’s earlier ones. All at once they embraced the idea! At the same moment Ultvedt names her: “HON”, SHE in Swedish.

The sculpture soon drew enthusiastic crowds, including many families.

Three Nanas for comparison:


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: