Niki de Saint Phalle, Action de tir, 1962

Niki de Saint Phalle, a French-American painter, sculptor, and filmmaker, would transcend her painful childhood experiences, including sexual abuse and expulsion from Catholic school, to become one of the most significant feminist artists of the 20th century.

Saint Phalle’s Action de tir performances invited participants to shoot a rifle at paint-filled balloons inside a plaster canvas. She restages the notion of painting as a “operatic multiple”—a dramatic, indeterminate operation that is activated by the viewer.  This gesture upended modernist narratives about art objects and their “aura” of authenticity.

Pictured above is Saint Phalle’s first American Action de tir in an alley off Sunset Strip. Her conflation of creation and destruction heralded a new level of political consciousness within art during the 1960s and thereafter.

Performed at the Everett Ellin Gallery, Los Angeles, CA. Photo: Seymour Rosen. Courtesy of the Estate of Seymour Rosen and SPACES, Aptos, CA.