Phallic victories? Niki de Saint-Phalle's Tirs
Between approximately 1961 and 1964, Nouveau Réaliste artist Niki de Saint-Phalle gained notoriety through the performance of her Tirs or ‘Shooting Pieces’. While the Tirs have been interpreted as a playful parody of abstract painting, to date, broader gender issues associated with their performance have largely escaped critical notice. In this paper, I argue that Saint-Phalle employed innovative critical strategies associated with feminism, fetishism and masquerade to critique gender inequalities and social violence. Using the cultural representations of masculinity and femininity available to her, she simultaneously staged herself as ‘virile’ artist, phallic woman, and ‘feminine’ object of the male gaze. At the same time, I suggest, the Tirs prefigured a thematics of fetishistic substitution and loss that would be spectacularly repeated in Jean Tinguely's exploding phallic sculpture La Vittoria ten years later.