Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002)
Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002)

Cathédrale (Tour de Babel/La Tour)

Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002)
Cathédrale (Tour de Babel/La Tour)
signed, titled and dated 'LA TOUR DE BABEL Niki de Saint Phalle 1962' (on the reverse)
oil, silver spray paint, found objects and mixed media on canvas over wire armature mounted on board
76 5/8 x 51 1/8 x 16½in. (195.3 x 129.5 x 42cm.)
Executed in 1962
Galerie Beaubourg, Paris.
Galerie Mostini, Paris.
Anon. sale, Perrin- Royère- Lajeunesse Versailles, 4 April 1993, lot 46.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
M. Clio, 'Writings on the Wall', in Art International, no. 4, 1988, pp. 63-66 (illustrated, p. 63).
Acatos (ed.), Niki de Saint Phalle, Catalogue raisonné 1949- 2000, vol. I, Lausanne 2001, no. 331 (illustrated in colour, p. 157).

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Beatriz Ordovas
Beatriz Ordovas

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Lot Essay

'I never shot at God. I shot at the church. I glorify the Cathedral.' (Saint Phalle, 1981, quoted in S. Groom (ed.), Niki de Saint Phalle, 2008, p.11).

In 1962, a year after the invention of her shooting paintings (Tirs) in which she entered the international art world with a literal 'bang', Niki de Saint Phalle embarked upon her Cathedral pictures. These works, which also rehearsed the shooting performances of her earlier target paintings, succeeded in emphasising Saint Phalle's Nouveau Realist engagement with the socio-political issues of her day whilst concisely articulating the tenuous divisions inherent within her entire oeuvre between the sacred and profane, personal and political.

An assemblage of seemingly precariously stacked found objects splattered with blood-like paint, Cathdrale (Tour de Babel La Tour) directly recalls the Biblical account recorded in Genesis. In this story, God confounds all the languages of the earth in order to punish an irreverent humanity who built a tower to the heavens in order to mark their achievement as a unified and monolingual community. A symbol of both cohesion and fragmentation, the Tower of Babel is a well known Biblical subject which has frequently been imaginatively represented throughout history by artists such as Pieter Bruegel the Elder. However, in this instance the symbolism of Tour de Babel bares testimony to the political tensions that were concurrently being played out in The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. This political breakdown (before the opening of the New York-Moscow hotline of June 1963) encapsulated the modern dilemma of a fractured society which was on the verge of annihilating itself through communicative deadlock. Speaking of her target assemblages, Saint Phalle describes her act of shooting the work as an almost cathartic response to her socio-political environment 'I was shooting at my own violence and the VIOLENCE of the times.' (Saint Phalle, quoted in S. Groom (ed.), Niki de Saint Phalle, 2008, p.60).

Tour de Babel, as part of the Cathedral series, negotiates an ambivalent space between personal response to the patriarchal structures entrenched within organised religion, and a political comment on world-wide contemporary issues. Just a year later Saint Phalle was to directly reference the Cold War in Heads of State, (Study for King Kong) in which an assemblage composed of the heads of various state leaders becomes a literal target for the bullet, providing a harmless way to assign retribution to those responsible for the Cold War.

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