Kimball Art Center exhibit exclaims ‘Freedom Would Be Mine’ | ParkRecord.com

Kimball Art Center exhibit exclaims ‘Freedom Would Be Mine’

One of Nancy Stoaks' favorite quotes comes from the lateNiki de Saint Phalle, an artist who critics have praised as a significant feminist voice of the 20th century.

"Men's roles seem to give them a great deal more freedom, and I was resolved that freedom would be mine," Saint Phalle once said in a letter to a friend.

"I think this quote beautifully expresses her broader project as an artist — speaking subversively from a woman's perspective, taking womanhood as her subject; asserting her presence in the public, rather than private, sphere," said Stoaks, curator for the Kimball Art Center.

Members of the general public will have a chance to see how the French-born artist was able to make herself heard in "Freedom Would Be Mine," an exhibit that will open this weekend at the Kimball Art Center.

“There is no denying that Saint Phalle worked with direct relationship to new ideas about women’s roles in society...”Nancy Stoaks,Kimball Art Center curator

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An opening reception will run from 6-9 p.m. on Friday, July 20. The event, which will celebrate the work and life of Saint Phalle, is free.

The exhibit, which will be open through Sept. 16, features 30 works in several mediums that were selected from the Niki Charitable Art Foundation in San Diego.

"There is a great range of works that run from her smaller sculptures to some larger works; prints and paintings," Stoaks said. "This exhibit will give viewers an idea of who Niki de Saint Phalle was and how she expressed herself."

Stoaks should know. She has a long academic history with Niki de Saint Phalle.

"I actually wrote my master's thesis at the University of Washington on her work, 'The Shooting Paintings,' which she created from 1961 and 1962," Stoaks said.

Saint Phalle created those paintings when she took a gun and shot polythene bags of paint that were covered in plaster and strategically placed on the canvas, according to Stoaks.

The curator also traveled to Europe specifically to study Saint Phalle's works that were shown in the Guggenheim Bilbao in Bilbao, Spain, and the Le Grand Palais in Paris, as well as visiting Saint Phalle's foundation in San Diego.

"So you can see this artist is near and dear to my heart and I'm excited to share who she is with the community," Stoaks said.

"The Shooting Paintings" were Stoaks' entry to Saint Phalle's career.

"When I first started studying her, I was drawn to her early works in the 1960s. And I found that to be such an exciting period because artists at that time were completely redefining what art was, how art could be made, what materials could be used and who could be an artist," she said. "Now, after many years and having the opportunity to dive deeper into her entire career, which ran from the early 1960s to the early 2000s, I found she explored the questions surrounding women's roles and their bodies in society."

Stoaks believes Saint Phalle's abuse as a child steered her into those expressions.

"She started making proto-feminist works in the 1960s before the real history of feminist art started in the 1970s," Stoaks explained. "So her relationship with that history is enjoyable to explore, even though sometimes she is separated a little from that history because of the timing of her work and her visual language."

While Saint Phalle's works are slightly different from those of other feminist artists of the 1970s — such as multimedia artist July Chicago, photographer Judith Black and performance artist Marina Abramovic — Stoaks said there is a connection.

"There is no denying that Saint Phalle worked with direct relationship to new ideas about women's roles in society and thinking about women's bodies," she said. "The show looks back at this history, and it's still relevant in the conversations we're having today."

Stoaks said Saint Phalle further developed her vision through collaborations with other artists like painter and sculpture Jasper Johns, graphic artist Robert Rauschenberg, musician and filmmaker Larry Rivers, composer John Cage, architect Mario Botta and choreographer Merce Cunningham.

"I love looking at those collaborations because her collaborators were all interesting artists who were creating interesting works in the 1960s," Stoaks said. "It's interesting to look at those works in context of her career as a whole, where she began creating public installations and larger sculptures. Even though she was working with a collaborative team, she was still a self-taught artist who was coming from a unique and personal visual language."

That language eventually developed and utilized a cast of characters that included "Nanas" — whimsical sculptures of women — snakes, birds and spiders.

"She played with the existing cultures the surround these creatures, but made them her own creations," Stoaks said. "They feel very whimsical and fanciful, but there are deep ideas that are rooted in these pieces. The birds are colorful and familiar, but also odd, with long, sharp beaks and menacing claws that take you aback."

Saint Phalle also juxtaposed familiarity and menace through her palette.

"In terms of color, she is playful and brings a sense of joy," Stoaks said. "But there is an interesting contrast in these works that almost scares you and makes you uneasy. When looking at these works, it's great to let them kind of take you over and let the ideas sink in."

Bringing the "Freedom Would Be Mine" exhibit to the Kimball Art Center was an organic experience, Stoaks said.

"Ten years ago, when I was in San Diego, I started to establish a relationship with Niki's foundation," she said. "I reached out to them a year ago to see if we could work together to explore doing an exhibition at the Kimball."

That's when Stoaks found out that David Stevenson, one of the three trustees of Saint Phalle's foundation, lives in Park City and was familiar with the Kimball Art Center.

"It all just came together after that," Stoaks said.

Stoaks hopes the exhibit will inspire art lovers to explore the work of other female artists.

"What I found, like so many women artists in the 20th century, was that their work warranted more study," she said. "Female artists are still underrepresented in museum collections."

An opening reception for the “Freedom Would Be Mine” exhibit of Niki de Saint Phalle’s work will run from will run from 6-8 p.m. on Friday, July 20, at the Kimball Art Center, 1401 Kearns Blvd. The free event will celebrate the work and life of Saint Phalle, who passed away in 2002. The exhibit will show until Sept. 16. For information, visit http://www.kimballartcenter.org.

Events in conjunction with the exhibit

• July 27 — Feminist Friday. A chance for community members to gather and discuss Niki’s artwork in an intimate learning environment. Nancy Stoaks will lead the discussion and provide a tour. 6-8 p.m.

• Aug. 1-3 — Park City Kimball Art Center will celebrate Niki de Saint Phalle with opportunities for children to be inspired by the artist’s art and create felt collages based on her works. Times to be determined.

• Aug. 8 and 15, — Woman Made. In this two-session class, participants will make their own individual “Nanas.” This workshop is for those who identify as women. 6-8 p.m.

• Aug. 11, — Fire Away. Participants will have an opportunity to create their own assemblage with paint using spray bottles. 10 a.m – noon

• Aug. 31 — Feminist Friday. A chance for community members to gather and discuss Niki’s artwork in an intimate learning environment. Nelvin Cecil Howell will lead the discussion and provide a tour. 6-8 p.m.