Niki de Saint Phalle – Paradis retrouvé

Niki de Saint phalle | Paradis Retrouvé


Niki de Saint Phalle
Adam and Eve, 1985 Polyester and painted fiberglass 154 x 185 x 158 cm | 60.6 x 72.8 x 62.2 in.

Niki de Saint Phalle

Paradis Retrouvé


19 October – 30 November 2022

To close its annual programming, Opera Gallery in Paris is pleased to present, from Oct. 19 to Nov. 30, Paradis Retrouvé, an exhibition dedicated to Niki de Saint Phalle.

About thirty exceptional works by the Franco-American artist will be presented, highlighting her creativity through a variety of techniques and materials in a universe populated by imaginary animals and colourful Nanas. The exhibition draws parallels with the famous Tarot Garden, a group of sculptures made in Tuscany between 1979 and 1993, which recreates her dreamlike style on a human scale.

Niki de Saint Phalle’s passion for esotericism and her practice of palmistry was also inspired by the divination of tarot cards. Within her oeuvre we see allusions to the Garden of Eden with the imposing sculpture of Adam and Eve and the recurring and iconic image of the snake, as well as that of the tree of life.

A feminist and intellectually committed artist, Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002) belonged to the New Realists group, which she joined in 1961 after meeting Jean Tinguely. Throughout her career, she never stopped integrating episodes from her life into her works. This exhibition is in this sense a fantasy garden imagined by Niki de Saint Phalle, inhabited by creatures and characters representative of her environment. Throughout her career, Saint Phalle never ceased to weave fragments of her own life into her work. The cathartic benefits of the creative act thus offered her the opportunity to escape into a world that obeyed its own codes. 

Her rounded figures, often monumental, tame the demons that inhabit the artist. Paradis Retrouvé is in this sense a fantastic garden imagined by Saint Phalle, inhabited by gigantic sculptures and devouring monsters. This places the art of Saint Phalle “between two poles, Heaven and Hell”, as Pierre Restany, New Realism art critic, said regarding her oeuvre. Her work acted as a form of therapy, allowing her to externalize the pains and reveries she grew up with.

Niki de Saint Phalle
The Mirror, 1980 Styrofoam, painted wood, mirror 105.9 x 152 x 25.4 cm | 41.7 x 59.8 x 10 in.

The exhibition is structured around figures drawn from religious iconography, many of her works are key symbols, such as the sun, in the image of the Sun God. 

Adam and Eve (1985), one of the exhibition’s highlights, immediately transports us to the enchanted world imagined by Niki de Saint Phalle. The biblical paradise highlights this original state of freedom and happiness, in which men and women evolve as equals. Because of its imposing size, the work will be displayed in a dedicated space outside the gallery, which the public can visit in parallel with the exhibition.

Among the works presented is White Tree (1972), which is part of this Garden of Eden and stands more than two meters tall. This ensemble represents the tree of life, the tree of knowledge of good and evil, at the center of the lost paradise. Here it consists of a myriad of small relief figures-skulls, spiders and hybrid creatures-representing respectively the ephemeral condition of existence and the passage of time, the artist’s mother and the evils of humanity.

Another mural, The Mirror (1980), illustrates the figure of the snake, which is found throughout the exhibition, both as an embodiment of the artist’s fears and as a symbol of female power. Although this theme has existed since antiquity, Niki de Saint Phalle renews it as a decorative object, where the viewer can contemplate her reflection framed by the snake, an irresistible temptation. 

Freedom is also represented in this exhibition, particularly by l’oiseau amoureux, an essential symbol of the artist’s work; it is an ambivalent figure, sometimes embodying a threat, while at other times it can also illustrate an escape to the afterlife. Birds, according to Niki de Saint Phalle, are messengers from one world to another and, in a sense, her guardian angels. «When I spread its wings, I breathe», she said in 1980.

Another central work, the majestic 1993 painted marble Nana, is a giant woman-goddess, strong but light because she is free of all constraints. Women have been central to Niki de Saint Phalle’s work from the beginning. Her Nanas, made beginning in the 1960s, remain her most iconic and undoubtedly best known works. After seeing one of her friends pregnant, the artist decided to create brightly colored women with naive workmanship and voluptuous shapes decorated with hearts, suns or flowers. These conquering figures breathe joie de vivre and evoke freedom, the emancipation of women, their power and the expression of their bodies.

This exhibition brings together a set of works illustrating the imaginary paradise that Niki de Saint Phalle has built and invites the viewer to immerse themself in a dreamlike journey.

Niki de Saint Phalle
The bird in love, 2000 Painted marble Painted resin 60x48x23cm|23.6x18.9x9.1in
Niki de Saint Phalle
Nana, 1993, Painted marble Painted resin 190,5x109,2x55,9cm|75x43x22in

Opera Gallery

Located at 62 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris’s Golden Triangle, Opera Gallery, a modern and contemporary art gallery founded in 1994 by Gilles Dyan, now has a network of fourteen art galleries around the world: in Paris, London, Munich, Geneva, New York, Miami, Aspen, Dubai, Beirut, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Seoul. Directed by Marion Petitdidier, the Paris gallery offers a permanent selection of works by modern, postwar and contemporary artists-Pablo Picasso, Jean Dubuffet, Alexander Calder, Pierre Soulages, Manolo Valdés, Georg Baselitz, etc. – as well as monographic, group and thematic exhibitions to an audience of art lovers and collectors, both private and public.

Niki de Saint Phalle

Paradis Retrouvé

19 October – 30 November 2022

Opera Gallery, Paris

62, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, 75008 Paris


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