Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Niki de Saint Phalle's Guardian Angel at Zurich's Main Station

In 1847 the first rail connection opened in Switzerland, running from Baden to Zurich. And in 1871 a  new main station opened in Zurich. It still stands, like a Prussian neo-renaissance palace, astride the prestigious (and world's most expensive) main street, the Bahnhofstrasse.

But let us step inside the Hauptbahnhof, and discover the treasure that hangs from its ceiling, protecting the travellers.

In 1997, in order to commerorate 150 years of Swiss railroads, one of the world's leading artists was commissioned to produce one of her easily recognisable gigantic and powerful women.  Over 11 metres long, and weighing 1.2 tons, it was made in the USA, shipped to Rotterdam in three pieces, brought by boat up the Rhine to Basel, then transported by low roader to Zurich and reassembled. And here it hangs, Niki de Saint Phalle's Guardian Angel.

It is, of course, wild and daring in its madness. She sweeps above the tiny, busy commuters, heavy but wonderfully nimble, a gloriously overdressed female Sumo wrestler (which might explain de Saint Phalle's incredible popularity in Japan.)

I was first introduced to the work of Niki de Saint Phalle by a girlfriend during a trip to Paris in 1985.  We sat in a cafe near the Pompidou Centre, at the Place Igor Stravinsky, listening to the rain and laughing at de Saint Phalle's wonderfully cheery fountain. I fell in love and married the girl.

Today de Saint Phalle's angel of the station still casts her protection over us.


  1. Hello:
    This is such a splendid piece of sculpture, floating as it does over the heads of daily commuters and travellers alike. What joy it must bring to those who choose to look up. And how imaginative to have placed such a piece in this less than usual setting rather than, as is so often the case with such works, in an art gallery or museum.

    Railway stations constructed around the turn of the C19 and C20 centuries we find endlessly fascinating, not least for their architecture which is so often a feat of engineering.

  2. I love 19th century European railway stations too. Antwerpen is among my favourites, Milan is interesting and all of the big stations in Paris. For a small city Zurich's station is incredibly grand.

    1. Yes, Milan particularly so as it is now a very good example, or so we think, of a 1930s style favoured by Mussolini.

    2. True, though I don' think it qualifies as what some call 'Fascist architecture" for the simple reason the original plans pre-date Fascism, and the planning continued throughout the nearly twenty years of construction, gradually becoming more elaborate.

  3. I don't know that I love the overdressed, over coloured female Sumo wrestler... or any Sumo wrestlers, for that matter. But I do love the idea of naming squares, streets, gardens and communal facilities after important cultural figures eg Place Igor Stravinsky. I wish Australia did that.

  4. It's funny that you pointed out the "over coloured", Hels. The Pompidou Centre in Paris (just off Place Igor Stravinsky!)has just started its first ever mobile exhibition. It is travelling throughout France, the works being exhibited in a tent, like a circus. The exhibition is called "Colour" and it features works of Niki de Saint Phalle (as well as Matisse, etc).