The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 18-JAN 19

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DEC 18-JAN 19 Issue
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Niki Charitable Art Foundation

Niki de Saint Phalle and Bloum Carenas. Courtesy the Niki Charitable Art Foundation.

Niki often talked about what would happen after she died. She and her husband Jean Tinguely married and remained married mostly to protect each other. This created a protective wall: each knew the other would do his/her best to preserve the art and respect each other’s vision. If you wanted to or not, if you were around them, you had to listen to their multiple ever-changing plans. As Tinguely liked to say, they were “megalomaniac artists”!!! 

When Jean died, Niki immersed herself in issues of legacy, donations and foundations and it would take years to establish them. First, she put all her energy into creating the Tinguely Museum in Basel. It was a fight, which impacted her already fragile health and led her to move to California eventually. From there she finished the donation to endow the Tinguely Museum with art, which was created by Hoffman LaRoche. After this was settled, Niki focused on securing her Tarot Garden in Italy, and creating an independent foundation in 1997, Fondazione Il Giardino Dei Tarocchi. After this she focused on the Niki Charitable Art Foundation, all while working on major art projects.

The first time Niki talked to me about « Moral Rights » as they exist in France, what it represents and would one day be my responsibility, was when I was thirteen years old at her Tarot Garden. She hired me to work for her two months a year from age fourteen to eighteen. I worked for her full time at age 18 until I went in another direction. I wasn’t personally involved when Niki started with the creation of foundations as I was studying in New York City. Still, Niki would tell me about mistakes she had made, dropping hints to make me understand the struggles.

By the time I was twenty-six she found a way to get me back on “Team Niki”. We had both a grandmother/granddaughter relationship as well as a professional working one for sixteen years. She was my first mentor. She was my hero.

The last time she tried to get me actively involved in, what would become, the Niki Charitable Art Foundation, I said to her I would do whatever she wanted, but I wasn’t mature enough for life without her in it. This was only four years before she died, and I just wasn’t emotionally ready. I was thirty years old when Niki died.

Today, and with the work of these foundations, we are still pursuing the original goal: create the opportunity for exhibitions worldwide, loan artwork from our collection, help research through access to our archives, promote educational art experiences, protect her public art and work closely with the Tarot Garden. Both foundations are like Niki’s work families.

We haven’t changed anything in the status of the foundation, and thanks to Christine Vincent’s Artist Endowed Foundations seminars, we have the opportunity to verify that we are making the right choices, as well as consider various options for the future. We still have a long way to go in regard to placing Niki where she should be in the context of art history. Her approach to life and art is absolutely contemporary and misunderstood. Her work is very much needed today, especially considering the #MeToo movement and the awareness it has raised. Niki addressed this, along with issues of feminism, individualism, racism, sexism, homophobia, war, discrimination, aids, violence, transgression, spirituality, playfulness and joy throughout her artistic career.

My personal mission is to have the world recognize this incredible artist. For this, her work needs to be accessible to the public. We do this, for example, with long term public loans to the cities of San Diego and Escondido, where Niki was one of the first to bring public art to, as well as assisting with her exhibitions all around the world.


Bloum Cardenas

is a Trustee of the Niki Charitable Art Foundation and President of Giardino Dei Tarocchi.


The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 18-JAN 19

All Issues