An artist's rendering of the New York Avenue Sculpture Project, organized by the National Museum of Women in the Arts. (Jaroslaw Bieda)
I'm thrilled to hear that the weird, ugly section of NY Avenue in front of the Museum for Women in the Arts* is soon going to host a parade of Niki de Saint Phalle's fun, cheerful, technicolor sculptures. Oh, sure, they'll be vandalized within twelve hours of being installed, but it'll be worth it.
I've always had a soft spot for her work, ever since I saw her cartoonish fountain outside the Centre Pompidou in Paris. When I went to UCSD, I appreciated the presence of her Sun God, a profoundly ridiculous public sculpture.
I have no idea what kind of reputation Niki de Saint Phalle, perhaps best known to the public for her perfume bottles, enjoys in the academic art world. I'm assuming her work is looked down upon, because nothing annoys academics quite as much as the intrusion of fun and cheerfulness in art. It's an instant critical death sentence.
Lucky for you I work in a veritable hive of such academics, so I'll ask around today and try to find out.
*I'm unimpressed with the publicity for this fairly major event: nothing on the NMWA web site; nothing on the Niki de Saint Phalle Foundation's web site. Are they trying to keep this secret?
UPDATE: "Her work kind of falls outside academia," is how one colleague put it. Several others used the word "dated" to refer to her work. This is pretty much what I expected.
UPDATE: I cornered a relevant curator (who will remain anonymous) and had the following conversation:
Me: What do you think of Niki de Saint Phalle's work?
Curator: Well... I don't.
So the work of Saint Phalle occupies an in-between place in the low art/high art debate (where "cartoonish" is always a put-down). I guess you could call it fine-ish art. Other examples of this purgatory include Keith Haring, the West Coast "Kustom Kulture" painters of the 90s, Barry Flanagan (ugh), and Kenny Scharf.