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Niki Shines in the Garden
Niki de Saint Phalle sculptures bring fun and play to Chicago's Garfield Conservatory
Shannon McCann (joethefig)     Print Article 
Published 2007-06-24 12:46 (KST)   
"Adam and Eve" by Niki de Saint Phalle. Niki's sculptures add bright color to the Palm House
©2007 Shannon McCann
This summer, Chicago's Garfield Park Conservatory is full of color and reflection and it is not coming from the flowers and ponds. The traveling tour of the late Niki de Saint Phalle's sculpture will be exhibited May 4 - October 31 and should be a big draw for the city셲 premiere conservatory. The exhibit features 34 of Saint Phalle's large works.

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De Saint Phalle was a revolutionary experimental artist. She gained world renown in the 1960s with her "Shooting Paintings." This style of painting, shooting paint cans with a .22 caliber rifle allowing the paint to spill out in random pattern on the painting, was very popular at festivals and public art shows and she toured the world creating art in front of large audiences.

She would move onto a very different style of art that would become her lasting legacy, that of her "Nanas" and other large colorful sculptures. She would dedicate a large part of her life creating and filling her garden with these sculptures. Her garden, "Giardino Dei Tarocchi" in Garavicchio, Italy, would take 20 years to complete and features sculptures of things seen on Tarot cards. During this time, she would create and exhibit many other sculptures worldwide.

She lived the last eight years of her life in the United States and her last major design work was the "Queen Califia's Magical Circle Garden" sculpture garden in Escondido, California. The Niki Museum in Nasu, Japan and the Sprengel Museum in Hannover, Germany have major de Saint Phalle collections. She passed away in 2002, but her legacy lives on through her charitable foundation (Niki Charitable Art Foundation) and through her many works.

Garfield Park Conservatory is one of the premier conservatories in the United States
©2007 Shannon McCann
Chicago is not new to de Saint Phalle sculpture; three of her pieces can be found at the Chicago Children's Museum, the Lincoln Park Conservatory, and at the Chicago Cultural Center. One of the sculptures, "#23 Basketball Player," depicts Michael Jordan, a hero and legend to Chicago sports fans, and is sure to excite local residents.

#23 Basketball Player by Niki de Saint Phalle. Sure to be a big hit in Jordan's city.
©2007 Shannon McCann
This exhibit fits in very well with Chicago's summer-long "Art of Play" celebration. "Art of Play" is a citywide schedule of events that focus on family, kids, and interactive play.

Garfield Park is one of the largest and most significant conservatories in the United States. Its impressive main greenhouse, the Palm House, has over eighty varieties of palm trees growing under its roof. The Conservatory grows many chocolate trees and hosts its biggest annual event, the Chocolate Festival, each February.

For years in the mid-20th century, this cultural gem was an afterthought in the city as it is centered in one of the city's most challenging neighborhoods. Few visitors felt secure enough to eye the fantastic collection of plants. In the mid-1990s the city and the Park District became determined to change this image and began a long-term project to improve the facility and nearby city blocks in an effort to make this a more attractive site.

As part of this improvement plan, many major exhibits have been staged at the Conservatory to accompany the annual garden events. Led by the critically-acclaimed exhibit of the works of glass artist David Chihuly, Garfield Park has been very successful with shows that intermingle large art within the natural conservatory and garden setting.

"Cat Head Totem" by Niki de Saint Phalle. These sculptures feature intricate mosaic design
©2007 Shannon McCann
Niki's works are spread throughout Garfield's lawns and gardens.
©2007 Shannon McCann
"Niki in the Garden" does not disappoint. The pieces are all very colorful, and they are kid- and photo-friendly. Visitors are encouraged to touch, sit on, and go inside many of the works. Most of the exhibit is outside and spread far enough apart to create the perfect atmosphere for a nice summer walk.

Parking is free but limited to the Conservatory's small lot or on the street. Public transportation (take the Green Line train to the Conservatory stop) runs right to the front door. The suggested donation is $5 for adults; children visit for free. The Conservatory's recently remodeled gift store offers some very nice items and is definitely worth a visit.

Of the 34 pieces on display, "Grande Oiseau de Feu Sur L'Arche," is the brightest. This glistening silver firebird on an arch shines over visitors as they cross from the inside gardens to the outside lawn. There are 22 sculptures outside in the gardens and on the lawn. Visitors are encouraged to climb, sit, and enter many of these works, making them especially entertaining for children. Other pieces provide great photo opportunities, as they include built in seats and stands as part of the sculpture.

"Grande Oiseau de Feu Sur L'Arche" by Niki de Saint Phalle greets visitors as they venture outside.
©2007 Shannon McCann
Many of the inside pieces are actually elaborately sculpted chairs, providing a place to rest or to capture the moment on film. The "Star Fountain" and "Les Trois Graces" are fountains that are set up and running in a couple of the conservatory's reflecting pools. "Femme Bleue" and "New Man Is Coming" have a distinctly different style, called "Skinny's" by Niki, and they guard the rear of the Horticultural Hall.

This great show does have a downside. Since most of the sculptures are displayed outdoors, on a rainy day, you will miss most of the colorful work unless you are willing to get wet.

Niki's style of sculpture is unique and any lover of color, freeform, or expression will love this show. She once said, "I have the irresistible urge to make things for the home. Crazy fun things." This show is full of "crazy fun things" and is one of the must see events in Chicago this year.

"La Cabeza" by Niki de Saint Phalle. Kids love playing in and on many of the sculptures.
©2007 Shannon McCann
"Louis Armstrong" by Niki de Saint Phalle. A colorful tribute to the great musician
©2007 Shannon McCann

©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Shannon McCann

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