Issue 35 February 2024

Issue 34 November 2023

Issue 33 August 2023

Issue 32 June 2023

Issue 31 February 2023

Issue 30 November 2022

Issue 29 August 2022

Issue 28 May 2022

Issue 27 February 2022

Issue 26 November 2021

Issue 25 August 2021

Issue 24 May 2021

Issue 23 February 2021

Issue 22 November 2020

Issue 21 August 2020

Issue 20 May 2020

Issue 19 February 2020

Letter from the Editor –Lindsay Preston Zappas
Parasites in Love –Travis Diehl
To Crush Absolute On Patrick Staff and
Destroying the Institution
–Jonathan Griffin
Victoria Fu:
Camera Obscured
–Cat Kron
Resurgence of Resistance How Pattern & Decoration's Popularity
Can Help Reshape the Canon
–Catherine Wagley
Trace, Place, Politics Julie Mehretu's Coded Abstractions
–Jessica Simmons
Exquisite L.A.: Featuring: Friedrich Kunath,
Tristan Unrau, and Nevine Mahmoud
–Claressinka Anderson & Joe Pugliese
Reviews April Street
at Vielmetter Los Angeles
–Aaron Horst

Chiraag Bhakta
at Human Resources
–Julie Weitz

Don’t Think: Tom, Joe
and Rick Potts

–Matt Stromberg

Sarah McMenimen
at Garden
–Michael Wright

The Medea Insurrection
at the Wende Museum
–Jennifer Remenchik

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Mike Kelley
at Hauser & Wirth
–Angella d’Avignon
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Issue 18 November 2019

Letter from the Editor –Lindsay Preston Zappas
The Briar and the Tar Nayland Blake at the ICA LA
and Matthew Marks Gallery
–Travis Diehl
Putting Aesthetics
to Hope
Tracking Photography’s Role
in Feminist Communities
– Catherine Wagley
Instagram STARtists
and Bad Painting
– Anna Elise Johnson
Interview with Jamillah James – Lindsay Preston Zappas
Working Artists Featuring Catherine Fairbanks,
Paul Pescador, and Rachel Mason
Text: Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos: Jeff McLane
Reviews Children of the Sun
– Jessica Simmons

Derek Paul Jack Boyle
–Aaron Horst

Karl Holmqvist
at House of Gaga, Los Angeles
–Lee Purvey

Katja Seib
at Château Shatto
–Ashton Cooper

Jeanette Mundt
at Overduin & Co.
–Matt Stromberg
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Issue 17 August 2019

Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Green Chip David Hammons
at Hauser & Wirth
–Travis Diehl
Whatever Gets You
Through the Night
The Artists of Dilexi
and Wartime Trauma
–Jonathan Griffin
Generous Collectors How the Grinsteins
Supported Artists
–Catherine Wagley
Interview with
Donna Huanca
–Lindsy Preston Zappas
Working Artist Featuring Ragen Moss, Justen LeRoy,
and Bari Ziperstein
Text: Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos: Jeff McLane
Reviews Sarah Lucas
at the Hammer Museum
–Yxta Maya Murray

George Herms and Terence Koh
at Morán Morán
–Matt Stromberg

Hannah Hur
at Bel Ami
–Michael Wright

Sebastian Hernandez
–Julie Weitz

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Alex Israel
at Greene Naftali
–Rosa Tyhurst

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Issue 16 May 2019

Trulee Hall's Untamed Magic Catherine Wagley
Ingredients for a Braver Art Scene Ceci Moss
I Shit on Your Graves Travis Diehl
Interview with Ruby Neri Jonathan Griffin
Carolee Schneemann and the Art of Saying Yes! Chelsea Beck
Exquisite L.A. Claressinka Anderson
Joe Pugliese
Reviews Ry Rocklen
at Honor Fraser
–Cat Kron

Rob Thom
at M+B
–Lindsay Preston Zappas

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age
of Black Power, 1963-1983
at The Broad
–Matt Stromberg

Anna Sew Hoy & Diedrick Brackens
at Various Small Fires
–Aaron Horst

Julia Haft-Candell & Suzan Frecon
at Parrasch Heijnen
–Jessica Simmons

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Shahryar Nashat
at Swiss Institute
–Christie Hayden
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Issue 15 February 2019

Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Letter to the Editor
Men on Women
Geena Brown
Eyes Without a Voice
Julian Rosefeldt's Manifesto
Christina Catherine Martinez
Seven Minute Dream Machine
Jordan Wolfson's (Female figure)
Travis Diehl
Laughing in Private
Vanessa Place's Rape Jokes
Catherine Wagley
Interview with
Rosha Yaghmai
Laura Brown
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring: Patrick Martinez,
Ramiro Gomez, and John Valadez
Claressinka Anderson
Joe Pugliese
Reviews Outliers and American
Vanguard Art at LACMA
–Jonathan Griffin

Sperm Cult
–Matt Stromberg

Kahlil Joseph
–Jessica Simmons

Ingrid Luche
at Ghebaly Gallery
–Lindsay Preston Zappas

Matt Paweski
at Park View / Paul Soto
–John Zane Zappas

Trenton Doyle Hancock
at Shulamit Nazarian
–Colony Little

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Catherine Opie
at Lehmann Maupin
–Angella d'Avignon
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Issue 14 November 2018

Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Celeste Dupuy-Spencer and Figurative Religion Catherine Wagley
Lynch in Traffic Travis Diehl
The Remixed Symbology of Nina Chanel Abney Lindsay Preston Zappas
Interview with Kulapat Yantrasast Christie Hayden
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring: Sandra de la Loza, Gloria Galvez, and Steve Wong
Claressinka Anderson
Photos: Joe Pugliese
Reviews Raúl de Nieves
at Freedman Fitzpatrick
-Aaron Horst

Gertrud Parker
at Parker Gallery
-Ashton Cooper

Robert Yarber
at Nicodim Gallery
-Jonathan Griffin

Nikita Gale
at Commonwealth & Council
-Simone Krug

Lari Pittman
at Regen Projects
-Matt Stromberg

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Eckhaus Latta
at the Whitney Museum
of American Art
-Angella d'Avignon
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Issue 13 August 2018

Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Letter to the Editor Julie Weitz with Angella d'Avignon
Don't Make
Everything Boring
Catherine Wagley
The Collaborative Art
World of Norm Laich
Matt Stromberg
Oddly Satisfying Art Travis Diehl
Made in L.A. 2018 Reviews Claire de Dobay Rifelj
Jennifer Remenchik
Aaron Horst
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring: Anna Sew Hoy, Guadalupe Rosales, and Shizu Saldamando
Claressinka Anderson
Photos: Joe Pugliese
Reviews It's Snowing in LA
at AA|LA
–Matthew Lax

Fiona Conner
at the MAK Center
–Thomas Duncan

Show 2
at The Gallery @ Michael's
–Simone Krug

Deborah Roberts
at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles
–Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi

Mimi Lauter
at Blum & Poe
–Jessica Simmons

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Math Bass
at Mary Boone
–Ashton Cooper

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Condo New York
–Laura Brown
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Issue 12 May 2018

Poetic Energies and
Radical Celebrations:
Senga Nengudi and Maren Hassinger
Simone Krug
Interior States of the Art Travis Diehl
Perennial Bloom:
Florals in Feminism
and Across L.A.
Angella d'Avignon
The Mess We're In Catherine Wagley
Interview with Christina Quarles Ashton Cooper
Object Project
Featuring Suné Woods, Michelle Dizon,
and Yong Soon Min
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos: Jeff McLane
Reviews Meleko Mokgosi
at The Fowler Museum at UCLA
-Jessica Simmons

Chris Kraus
at Chateau Shatto
- Aaron Horst

Ben Sanders
at Ochi Projects
- Matt Stromberg

iris yirei hsu
at the Women's Center
for Creative Work
- Hana Cohn

Harald Szeemann
at the Getty Research Institute
- Olivian Cha

Ali Prosch
at Bed and Breakfast
- Jennifer Remenchik

Reena Spaulings
at Matthew Marks
- Thomas Duncan
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Issue 11 February 2018

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Museum as Selfie Station Matt Stromberg
Accessible as Humanly as Possible Catherine Wagley
On Laura Owens on Laura Owens Travis Diehl
Interview with Puppies Puppies Jonathan Griffin
Object Project Lindsay Preston Zappas, Jeff McLane
Reviews Dulce Dientes
at Rainbow in Spanish
- Aaron Horst

Adrián Villas Rojas
at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA
- Lindsay Preston Zappas

Nevine Mahmoud
at M+B
- Angella D'Avignon

Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960- 1985
at the Hammer Museum
- Thomas Duncan

Hannah Greely and William T. Wiley
at Parker Gallery
- Keith J. Varadi

David Hockney
at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (L.A. in N.Y.)
- Ashton Cooper

Edgar Arceneaux
at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (L.A. in S.F.)
- Hana Cohn
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Issue 10 November 2017

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Barely Living with Art:
The Labor of Domestic
Spaces in Los Angeles
Eli Diner
She Wanted Adventure:
Dwan, Butler, Mizuno, Copley
Catherine Wagley
The Languages of
All-Women Exhibitions
Lindsay Preston Zappas
L.A. Povera Travis Diehl
On Eclipses:
When Language
and Photography Fail
Jessica Simmons
Interview with
Hamza Walker
Julie Wietz
Object Project
Featuring: Rosha Yaghmai,
Dianna Molzan, and Patrick Jackson
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos by Jeff McLane
Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA
Regen Projects
Ibid Gallery
One National Gay & Lesbian Archives and MOCA PDC
The Mistake Room
Luis De Jesus Gallery
the University Art Gallery at CSULB
the Autry Museum
Reviews Cheyenne Julien
at Smart Objects

Paul Mpagi Sepuya
at team bungalow

Ravi Jackson
at Richard Telles

Tactility of Line
at Elevator Mondays

Trigger: Gender as a Tool as a Weapon
at the New Museum
(L.A. in N.Y.)
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Issue 9 August 2017

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Women on the Plinth Catherine Wagley
Us & Them, Now & Then:
Reconstituting Group Material
Travis Diehl
The Offerings of EJ Hill
Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi
Interview with Jenni Sorkin Carmen Winant
Object Project
Featuring: Rebecca Morris,
Linda Stark, Alex Olson
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos by Jeff McClane
Reviews Mark Bradford
at the Venice Biennale

Broken Language
at Shulamit Nazarian

Artists of Color
at the Underground Museum

Anthony Lepore & Michael Henry Hayden
at Del Vaz Projects


Analia Saban at
Sprueth Magers
Letter to the Editor Lady Parts, Lady Arts
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Issue 8 May 2017

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Kanye Westworld Travis Diehl
@richardhawkins01 Thomas Duncan
Support Structures:
Alice Könitz and LAMOA
Catherine Wagley
Interview with
Penny Slinger
Eliza Swann
Exquisite L.A.
taisha paggett
Ashley Hunt
Young Chung
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Reviews Alessandro Pessoli
at Marc Foxx

Jennie Jieun Lee
at The Pit

Trisha Baga
at 356 Mission

Jimmie Durham
at The Hammer

Parallel City
at Ms. Barbers

Jason Rhodes
at Hauser & Wirth
Letter to the Editor
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Issue 7 February 2017

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Catherine Wagley
Put on a Happy Face:
On Dynasty Handbag
Travis Diehl
The Limits of Animality:
Simone Forti at ISCP
(L.A. in N.Y.)
Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi
More Wound Than Ruin:
Evaluating the
"Human Condition"
Jessica Simmons
Exquisite L.A.
Brenna Youngblood
Todd Gray
Rafa Esparza
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Reviews Creature
at The Broad

Sam Pulitzer & Peter Wachtler
at House of Gaga // Reena Spaulings Fine Art

Karl Haendel
at Susanne Vielmetter

Wolfgang Tillmans
at Regen Projects

at Chateau Shatto

The Rat Bastard Protective Association
at the Landing
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Issue 6 November 2016

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Kenneth Tam
's Basement
Travis Diehl
The Female
Cool School
Catherine Wagley
The Rise
of the L.A.
Art Witch
Amanda Yates Garcia
Interview with
Mernet Larsen
Julie Weitz
Agnes Martin
Jessica Simmons
Exquisite L.A.
Analia Saban
Ry Rocklen
Sarah Cain
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Made in L.A. 2016
at The Hammer Museum

Doug Aitken
at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA

at Tif Sigfrids

Jean-Pascal Flavian and Mika Tajima
at Kayne Griffin Corcoran

Mark A. Rodruigez
at Park View

The Weeping Line
Organized by Alter Space
at Four Six One Nine
(S.F. in L.A.)
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Issue 5 August 2016

Letter form the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
at The Underground Museum
Catherine Wagley
The Art of Birth Carmen Winant
Escape from Bunker Hill
John Knight
Travis Diehl
Ed Boreal Speaks Benjamin Lord
Art Advice (from Men) Sarah Weber
Routine Pleasures
at the MAK Center
Jonathan Griffin
Exquisite L.A.
Fay Ray
John Baldessari
Claire Kennedy
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Reviews Revolution in the Making
at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel

Carl Cheng
at Cherry and Martin

Joan Snyder
at Parrasch Heijnen Gallery

Elanor Antin
at Diane Rosenstein

Performing the Grid
at Ben Maltz Gallery
at Otis College of Art & Design

Laura Owens
at The Wattis Institute
(L.A. in S.F.)
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Issue 4 May 2016

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Moon, laub, and Love Catherine Wagley
Walk Artisanal Jonathan Griffin
Marva Marrow's
Inside the L.A. Artist
Anthony Pearson
Mystery Science Thater:
Diana Thater
Aaron Horst
Informal Feminisms Federica Bueti and Jan Verwoert
Marva Marrow Photographs
Lita Albuquerque
Interiors and Interiority:
Njideka Akunyili Crosby
Char Jansen
Reviews L.A. Art Fairs

Material Art Fair, Mexico City

Rain Room

Evan Holloway
at David Kordansky Gallery

Histories of a Vanishing Present: A Prologue
at The Mistake Room

Carter Mull
at fused space
(L.A. in S.F.)

Awol Erizku
at FLAG Art Foundation
(L.A. in N.Y.)
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Issue 3 February 2016

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Le Louvre, Las Vegas Evan Moffitt
iPhones, Flesh,
and the Word:
at Arturo Bandini
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Women Talking About Barney Catherine Wagley
Lingua Ignota:
Faith Wilding
at The Armory Center
for the Arts
Benjamin Lord
A Conversation
with Amalia Ulman
Char Jansen
How We Practice Carmen Winant
Share Your Piece
of the Puzzle
Federica Bueti
Amanda Ross-Ho Photographs
Erik Frydenborg
Reviews Honeydew
at Michael Thibault

Fred Tomaselli
at California State University, Fullerton

Trisha Donnelly
at Matthew Marks Gallery

Bradford Kessler
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Issue 2 November 2015

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Hot Tears Carmen Winant
Slow View:
Molly Larkey
Anna Breininger and Kate Whitlock
Americanicity's Paintings:
Orion Martin
at Favorite Goods
Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal
Layers of Leimert Park Catherine Wagley
Junkspace Junk Food:
Parker Ito
at Kaldi, Smart Objects,
White Cube, and
Château Shatto
Evan Moffitt
Melrose Hustle Keith Vaughn
Max Maslansky Photographs
Monica Majoli
at the Tom of Finland Foundation
White Lee, Black Lee:
William Pope.L’s "Reenactor"
Travis Diehl
Dora Budor Interview Char Jensen
Reviews Mary Ried Kelley
at The Hammer Museum

Tongues Untied
at MOCA Pacific Design Center

No Joke
at Tanya Leighton
(L.A. in Berlin)
Snap Reviews Martin Basher at Anat Ebgi
Body Parts I-V at ASHES ASHES
Eve Fowler at Mier Gallery
Matt Siegle at Park View
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Issue 1 August 2015

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Metaphysical L.A.
Travis Diehl
Art for Art’s Sake:
L.A. in the 1990s
Anthony Pearson
A Dialogue in Two
Synchronous Atmospheres
Erik Morse
with Alexandra Grant
at François Ghebaly
Jonathan Griffin
#studio #visit
with #devin #kenny
Mateo Tannatt
Jibade-Khalil Huffman
Slow View:
Discussion on One Work
Anna Breininger
with Julian Rogers
Reviews Pierre Huyghe

Mernet Larsen
at Various Small Fires

John Currin
at Gagosian, Beverly Hills

Pat O'Niell
at Cherry and Martin

A New Rhythm
at Park View

Unwatchable Scenes and
Other Unreliable Images...
at Public Fiction

Charles Gaines
at The Hammer Museum

Henry Taylor
at Blum & Poe/ Untitled
(L.A. in N.Y.)
Buy the Issue In Our Online Shop
1301 PE
Anat Ebgi (La Cienega)
Anat Ebgi (Wilshire)
Arcana Books
Artbook @ Hauser & Wirth
Babst Gallery
Baert Gallery
Bel Ami
Canary Test
Carlye Packer
Charlie James Gallery
Château Shatto
Chris Sharp Gallery
Cirrus Gallery
Clay ca
Commonwealth & Council
Craft Contemporary
D2 Art (Inglewood)
D2 Art (Westwood)
David Kordansky Gallery
David Zwirner
Diane Rosenstein
François Ghebaly
Gana Art Los Angeles
George Billis Gallery
Giovanni's Room
Hamzianpour & Kia
Hannah Hoffman Gallery
Harper's Gallery
Hashimoto Contemporary
Heavy Manners Library
Helen J Gallery
Human Resources
Hunter Shaw Fine Art
in lieu
LaPau Gallery
Lisson Gallery
Lowell Ryan Projects
Luis De Jesus Los Angeles
MAK Center for Art and Architecture
Make Room Los Angeles
Matter Studio Gallery
Matthew Brown Los Angeles
MOCA Grand Avenue
Monte Vista Projects
Morán Morán
Moskowitz Bayse
Nazarian / Curcio
Night Gallery
Nino Mier Gallery
NOON Projects
O-Town House
One Trick Pony
Paradise Framing
Park View / Paul Soto
Patricia Sweetow Gallery
Regen Projects
Reparations Club
r d f a
REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney CalArts Theater)
Roberts Projects
Royale Projects
Sean Kelly
Sebastian Gladstone
Shoshana Wayne Gallery
Smart Objects
Steve Turner
Stroll Garden
Tanya Bonakdar Gallery
The Box
The Fulcrum
The Hole
The Landing
The Poetic Research Bureau
The Wende Museum
Thinkspace Projects
Tierra del Sol Gallery
Tiger Strikes Astroid
Tomorrow Today
Track 16
Tyler Park Presents
USC Fisher Museum of Art
UTA Artist Space
Various Small Fires
Village Well Books & Coffee
Outside L.A.
Libraries/ Collections
Baltimore Museum of Art (Baltimore, MD)
Bard College, CCS Library (Annandale-on-Hudson, NY)
Charlotte Street Foundation (Kansas City, MO)
Cranbrook Academy of Art (Bloomfield Hills, MI)
Getty Research Institute (Los Angeles, CA)
Los Angeles Contemporary Archive (Los Angeles, CA)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Los Angeles, CA)
Maryland Institute College of Art (Baltimore, MD)
Midway Contemporary Art (Minneapolis, MN)
Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles, CA)
NYS College of Ceramics at Alfred University (Alfred, NY)
Pepperdine University (Malibu, CA)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (San Francisco, CA)
School of the Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY)
University of California Irvine, Langston IMCA (Irvine, CA)
University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA)
Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, MN)
Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY)
Yale University Library (New Haven, CT)

I Don’t Think I Belong: On Niki de Saint Phalle’s (Auto)biography

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Niki de Saint Phalle, Clarissa (1964). Felt Pen, colored pencil, graphite, gouache, and collage on paper, 25 x 20 inches. Image courtesy of Niki Charitable Art Foundation.

Niki de Saint Phalle considered herself “a special case. An Outsider.”1  If anyone else had called her that, it would have sounded condescending, lazy—maybe even a misreading of the folk art affinities of her large and sometimes lounging, matronly-yet-erotic Nana sculptures. Despite her self-proclaimed outsider status, Saint Phalle came from a well-off family and attended good schools (though she never received a formal fine art education). She also spent her entire adult life around insiders: she and Harry Mathews, the experimental poet-novelist-translator she married to escape her dysfunctional family at age 18, sought out and surrounded themselves with avant-garde artists. When Saint Phalle began to paint in her early 20s, her mentor was Hugh Weiss, a well-regarded American-French surrealist working in Paris. When she grew out of Weiss’ influence, Yves Klein, Marcel Duchamp, and Daniel Spoerri became her mentors—and, in the case of Klein and Spoerri, her community. So, what to make of her self-definition as an outsider? 

In the mid-1980s, she wrote a brief autobiographical essay called “Niki by Niki”—she was in her 50s and working on what would become her most ambitious public sculpture project, Tarot Garden (1998). In the essay, she described her life as a “fairy tale full of quests” and called herself a “devouring mother,” hypothesizing that critics had written about her so rarely because they were confused over whether she was a “twentieth century artist or archaic sculptor,” a New Realist or a romantic (her period associated with the New Realists in the 1960s had been overemphasized she felt, while her later “romantic, tormented period” had been overlooked).2 She wrote two versions of this essay—Saint Phalle was always revising and honing her writing about her life and work—one in the third person and one in the first. The third-person draft reads like a parody, as if a critic is trying to claim exclusive access to and understanding of a previously neglected artist. The first-person version feels like a sincere attempt to explain—to herself and others—why she felt like she didn’t fit, and why her work has confounded those who write histories.

Critic and editor Nicole Rudick includes the latter version in What Is Now Known Was Once Only Imagined: An (Auto)biography of Niki de Saint Phalle, out in February from Siglio Press. The book reads almost as an artist’s book, assembled entirely from Saint Phalle’s own drawings and writings about her life, as well as from the letters Saint Phalle wrote with virtuosity—drafting and redrafting missives and often including drawings that elaborated or emphasized certain sentiments. It is a visual delight, as there is little separation between Saint Phalle’s playful, vibrant images and her words—in fact, words often surround, or sit within, drawings of, for instance, a voluptuous serpent or an ornate leaning tower with bodies falling from its windows and ledges. Sometimes text is penned in thought bubbles emanating from the mouths of figures resembling Saint Phalle’s Nana sculptures. Yet, despite being filled with material created directly by Saint Phalle, What Is Known is neither autobiography nor artist book, as it was composed not by Saint Phalle but by Rudick. Rudick initially imagined the project as a more conventional biography, but after spending time in Saint Phalle’s Santee, California, archive, she realized that the artist had already written about much of her life herself, even if these recollections were not yet together in one place.3

Rudick chooses to begin the book with a poignant memory from Saint Phalle, about seeing Akira Kurosawa’s film Rashomon for the first time in 1950, when she would have been 19. The film prompts Saint Phalle to question her own understanding of truth. In looping script, she asks: “Is perceiving only personal? Does that mean my version is only mine?” She concludes that the only one “who can see all the pieces of the puzzle is GOD, not me!” From this passionate abdication of authorial control, What Is Now Known moves loosely chronologically, though many of the serigraphs, drawings, and letters it includes were composed in retrospect, when Saint Phalle was looking back on her life in the 1980s and 1990s. Rudick means for it to flow from beginning to end, but it is more intuitive and meandering than strictly narrative. In many ways, the book is about how to tell an artist’s story, told in the words of an artist who was never sure whether she fit in or how she wanted to—if at all. Rudick’s own questioning as the composer/ biographer (or unintended collaborator) comes through the book, too, as, like the pages themselves, her brief texts ponder how our lives are constructed (and remembered) in writing. 

Rudick reflects on the limits and possibilities of the form in her introduction (which, in addition to the afterword, is the only writing in the 268-page book that is penned directly by the biographer), asking, “Where do the borders of a person’s life lie? Where is the hard stop, the point at which the (auto)biographer can say with assurance, this has no bearing?” She cites biographers who diverged from their subjects’ lives while writing (Sam Stephenson) and biographers who channeled their little-known subjects, using archival fragments as starting points (Saidiya Hartman). Rudick’s approach is a different kind of channeling, a choice to champion a life that was there, archived in the words Saint Phalle wrote herself across drawings, letters, and illustrated diary entries. Yet, these words would never have arrived to us as a body of autobiographical writing had Rudick not asked, “What could be closer to the artist’s voice than the artist’s own voice, closer to her sensibility than that produced by her own hand?”4

Untitled drawing by Niki de Saint Phalle (1961). Image courtesy of Niki Charitable Art Foundation.

I discovered Rudick’s (auto)biography was forthcoming because I was searching for it, or something like it. I had been reading about Saint Phalle—mostly paging through exhibition catalogs—yet it was in the asides and anecdotes that I felt I had gotten the fullest sense of the artist: in Virginia Dwan’s recollection of shopping for “creepy crawlies” (plastic snakes and insects) with Saint Phalle on Olvera Street,5 or from a short passage in dancer Carolyn Brown’s memoir wherein she describes a 1960 Happening behind the Renaissance Club on Sunset Boulevard. Saint Phalle, dressed in a “white, space-lady bodysuit” and black boots, held a shotgun as she ascended and descended ladders, aiming and firing at one of her elaborate, matte-white assemblages.6 As she fired, explosions of colored paint erupted and corrupted the previously neutral surface. Afterward, Brown found Saint Phalle crying, tortured by the transience of the experience she had intentionally created. Descriptions like Brown’s had an immediacy and intensity that seemed to do justice to Saint Phalle—or perhaps I just wanted to feel a bit more like I knew her because her art seemed to be the product of such compelling, fiery energy. 

What Is Now Known captures Saint Phalle’s immediacy and intensity, but also her self-protectiveness and careful self-presentation. None of the drawings or texts are raw or under-realized. The book unfolds in a more conventionally narrative way at first, as both Saint Phalle and Rudick intended. The artist’s writing about her pre-art-making life was more straightforward than her subsequent writing, because, as Rudick surmises, later she began to let her art tell the story instead. As Saint Phalle tells us in text often accompanied by drawings—like the one of her blond mother sitting on a black-and-white striped stool and staring into a scalloped mirror—she was born in Paris in October 1930, just as the stock market crash decimated her father’s banking fortune. In her childhood, her family returned to New York and she attended the all-girls school Brearley (which she loved until a series of pornographic drawings/stories she wrote got her in trouble with the headmaster). Early on, she was certain that the life of a homemaker was not for her, and she admired her father’s freedom while simultaneously fearing that her own sexual feelings would turn her into a philanderer like him. At 18, she and Mathews eloped, and after the birth of their first child, they moved to France to escape McCarthy-era conservatism and live among artists. Mathews encouraged her desire for creative expression, yet still, she felt trapped by domestic responsibilities—all the more so given his continued affairs. In the mid-1950s, after Mathews noticed Saint Phalle hiding sharp objects under the mattress and rightly assumed she was contemplating suicide, he took her to a doctor, who had her committed. She began to paint while in the psychiatric hospital. Upon her discharge, she received a letter from her father in which he discussed his sexual abuse of her as a child; while she had repressed memories of the abuse, exorcising the trauma of it became a driving motivation of her work for the next decade. In the mid-1950s, after the birth of her second child, she left Mathews to live alone nearby and focus on her work. She meant to return, but fell in love with the sculptor Jean Tinguely, who would be her lover for a decade and collaborator for life. 

After she leaves her nuclear family and partners with Tinguely, Saint Phalle’s self-narration, and thus What Is Now Known, becomes less grounded in fact and chronology, propelled more by feelings and ideas. In a letter to the Swedish museum director Pontus Hultén, she explains the genesis of her shooting paintings, also known as her Tirs series (1961–63). She had imagined a painting bleeding and wounded, with emotions and sensations. Then, with Tinguely’s encouragement, she went about manifesting it: making reliefs with bulbous plaster covering up plastic bags full of paint and other things (spaghetti, eggs!). After the first shooting event in 1961, where she used a borrowed rifle to shoot so that her painting would bleed, critic Pierre Restany declared her one of the “New Realists,” a group that included Yves Klein, Tinguely, Martial Raysse, and others. The shoot-outs made her famous and also turned her into a femme fatale (“if I had been ugly, [the newspapers] would have said I had a complex and not paid attention” to this attractive girl “screaming against men”). Historian and MoMA curator William Seitz said her “attitude” had “set back modern art by 30 years!” But, as she tells Hultén, after two years doing shooting paintings she felt like a drug addict, hooked on the ritual, scandal, and attention, and felt she needed to turn away from “provocation” toward “a more interior, feminine world.”7 Her next long missive, to her friend Clarice Rivers, a teacher and the ex-wife of artist Larry Rivers, tells the tale of one of her largest early Nanas, Hon (1966), a pregnant goddess that viewers could enter from between her legs and climb into using a ladder reaching into her stomach.

In Saint Phalle’s writings, she reflected often on the patriarchy, as she does in a short, undated, typed essay called “Feminism.” She recounts a memory she had as a 12-year-old in which she told her mother she would never do laundry; her mother slapped her. At Catholic school, she told the nuns that Mary was more powerful than Jesus. Yet, she did not want to join the feminist movement when younger feminists approached her in the 1960s. “I felt in my own way as a loner making monumental works of art I was making a real contribution,” she wrote, going on to say that she saw feminism as cyclical—something that had always existed—and that at certain points in history, women are empowered to fight more strongly against oppression.8 In a long letter to her daughter, she again emphasizes her isolation in her battle against patriarchal violence, saying that her rape by her father as an adolescent forced her inward, where her rage helped her create the interior life that made her an artist. She acknowledges that not all women are able to overcome the trauma, even with the help of art.9 Yet she found a position of power for herself outside of the patriarchal systems that harmed her in her youth. 

It becomes clear throughout What Is Now Known that for Saint Phalle, joining and belonging have more to do with master narratives than with the sharing of intimate lived experience. Between Saint Phalle’s letters to Hultén and Clarice, Rudick inserts a page-long passage, untethered to any dated letter or diary entry, in which Saint Phalle calls herself rootless and a rebel: “I don’t think I belong to any society,” she says. This not-belonging is a refrain throughout, even as her personal correspondences with artists, supporters, and collaborators give the book its shape. It is as if she worries that being defined, understood, or claimed by any movement or school will limit her range of experience and expression. In “Niki by Niki,” she writes that her series The Devouring Mothers (1972), a whimsical yet violent meditation on abuse, was unpopular. Yet she also sees herself as a devouring mother—does she mean then, that she is choosing to be unpopular? By not imposing the inevitable constraints of narrative biography, Rudick allows Saint Phalle’s story to stay in this undefined, open, outside place that she time and time again chose for herself.

Niki de Saint Phalle, Dear Clarice (1983). Serigraph, 29 x 42 inches. Published in What Is Now Known Was Once Only Imagined: An (Auto)biography of Niki de Saint Phalle, Nicole Rudick, Siglio, 2022, 136–137. Image courtesy of Niki Charitable Art Foundation.

This essay was originally published in Carla issue 27.

  1. Niki de Saint Phalle, “Niki by Niki,” 1986, quoted in Nicole Rudick, What Is Now Known Was Once Only Imagined: An (Auto)biography of Niki de Saint Phalle (New York: Siglio, 2022), 149.
  2. Ibid.
  3. There is one other scholarly biography of Saint Phalle, Catherine Francblin’s La révolte à l’oeuvre (2013), but it has not been translated from its original French.
  4. Nicole Rudick, What Is Now Known Was Once Only Imagined, 12.
  5. Germano Celant, Virginia Dwan and Dwan Gallery (Milan: Skira, 2016), 140.
  6. Carolyn Brown, Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years with Cage and Cunningham (New York: Alfred Knopf, 2007), 344–45.
  7. Rudick, 83.
  8. Rudick, 128.
  9. Rudick, 220–221.

Catherine Wagley writes about art and visual culture in Los Angeles.

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