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Niki-pedia: de Saint Phalle gets a retrospective

NEW YORK— On Sept. 7, the Nohra Haime Gallery opened a 44-year retrospective of work by Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002), the French artist who is best known for her whimsical, brightly-painted polyester sculptures.

Niki de Saint Phalle’s polyester resin sculpture Tree of Liberty, 2000


The gallery, which has been the primary representative of her work in New York since 2009, is displaying 50 lithographs, assemblages and sculptures (through Oct. 29). Most of the pieces in this exhibition will be for sale, and all of them are primary-market pieces that have come from the Niki Charitable Art Foundation—established by the artist’s will and based in Santee, California—although some of those artworks will only be available for sale to museums.

“Certainly, there have been a number of recent exhibits that have caught the public’s attention, but really there are exhibitions of her work all over the world all the time,” gallery owner Nohra Haime told ARTnewsletter.

The sculpture in this gallery exhibit ranges in price from $50,000 to $1 million, depending on the work’s physical size as well as the size of the edition, while the lithographs—from editions of 50-100—are priced from $3,000/4,500 (one hand-colored etching is priced at $7,000). The wall-hung sculptural assemblages range from $50,000/400,000.

Los Angeles gallery owner Jonathan Novak describes the market for de Saint Phalle’s work as one marked by “consistent demand” and “steadily rising prices.”

All of the works that his gallery has exhibited and sold were purchased either from the secondary market or directly from the artist’s estate, which has afforded Novak a view of how her prices have risen in the 17 years that he has been buying her work.

“Ten years ago, pieces that I was selling for under $10,000—table-top-sized sculptures in larger editions of up to 150—are now selling for $40,000/60,000,” he says. Larger sculptures tend to be in smaller-edition sizes, of between 8 and 12, and have increased “250 to 300 percent over the past ten years, in the several hundred thousands of dollars and some reaching more than $1 million,” he says.

In recent months, exhibitions have taken place at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, Charlotte, N.C., at the Schunck Glaspaleis, Heerlen, Holland, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C. (as part of the New York Avenue Sculpture Project, which runs through October) and at the Kunsthalle Würth, Künzelsau, Germany.

The Niki Charitable Art Foundation houses the artist’s archives and more than 1,000 sculptures and 5,000 lithographs, many of which are on view to the public. The foundation promotes her work to museums and occasionally sells objects from its holdings in order to pay for the foundation’s operation. It is from the foundation and from the secondary market that the galleries exhibiting and selling her work—Nohra Haime in New York, Jonathan Novak in California, JGM Galerie in Paris and Guy Pieters in Belgium and France—obtain pieces.

De Saint Phalle’s work comes up regularly at public sales, producing solid prices. The current auction record is $1.1. million, compared with an estimate of $500,000/700,000 for the nearly nine-foot-tall painted polyester Ana Lena en Grece, 1965-7, which sold at Sotheby’s in 2006.