Jenny Holzer, Protect me from what I want, from Survival (1983–85), 1985, electronic panel, 6.1 x 12.2 m, Times Square, New York, © Photo: John Marchael, © Jenny Holzer, © ADAGP, Paris
In 1967, Niki de Saint Phalle built her first Nana-Maison and started to occupy public places with round, colourful female figures, restoring their place to women creators in towns which had mainly been occupied by men. “The flourishing of her colossal urban art corresponds in the same way to the arrival on the public scene of the women’s rights protest movement of which she forged a plastic equivalent,” explained art historian, Fabienne Dumont. At a time when the fields of sculpture and architecture were considered as masculine, women artists recaptured public places by installing monumental works, refusing the domesticity to which they were confined. It was a way of showing that women are capable of the same achievements as men: “I obey my pressing need to show that a woman can work on monumental scale,” said Niki de Saint Phalle regarding the creation of her sculpture park, Le Jardin des Tarots (1978-1998).
Feminist artists who create monumental works for public places wished to offer a more democratic art in tune with inhabitants. To do this, some first took over the streets in a non-conventional fashion by directly addressing passersby. They flooded towns with their messages: In 1978, using 54 NI panels, Tania Mouraud indicated all the places in Paris from which women were excluded, and as of 1977, Jenny Holzer showcased her Truismes. Others used monumental advertising posters: in 1989, the Guerrilla Girls asked: “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?”, and Barbara Kruger used the phrase: “Your body is a battleground” to protect abortion rights in the United States, a slogan that French urban artist, Miss.Tic, would reuse in 2000 in Paris.
Other artists with feminist preoccupations have had works commissioned by government bodies, for which they have produced monumental sculptures: Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely in 1983 with the Fontaine Stravinsky in Paris; Louise Bourgeois in 2005 with her spiders called Maman; Monica Bonvicini, in 2010, with She Lies, a floating structure opposite the Oslo Opera, Joana Vasconcelos in 2018 with Cœur de Paris at Porte de Clignancourt, on tramway line T3 in Paris.
Feminist artists also give written and visual portrayals of the demands heard in the demonstrations of the 1960s and 1970s. Viewers are thus confronted with works by women which are more and more imposing and more and more perennial. These women creators of an inclusive town thus give women a right to express themselves in public.