In 2009, seven years after Niki’s death, Yoko’s life came to a close at the age of 78. Just like Niki, Yoko spent the last seven years of her life fighting illnesses.
In March, 2006, “The Niki de Saint Phalle Exhibition” opened and began to tour the three art museums of Daimaru (Umeda and Tokyo), Nagoya City and Fukui City. After that, Yoko never participated in a larger project.
In July the next year, Yoko lost her husband Tsuji. She lost two individuals whom she had loved dearly. She felt an excruciating sadness. Tsuji’s death especially hit her hard; her mental and physical strength weakened conspicuously.
From its inception, the Niki Museum faced managerial challenges. In 2011, two years after Yoko’s death, the museum closed its door. There were many who lamented the closing. Yoko had left us, her bereaved family, a lot of things: tons of data and materials about Niki, her works, and as many as 500 letters between Niki and Yoko. While going through them, I began to feel strongly that in one form or another, I must preserve the first half of her life as “Shizue Kuroiwa” and “Shizue Masuda,” and the second half as “Yoko Shizue Masuda,” a Niki de Saint Phalle collector and the founder of Niki’s eponymous museum, as well as their close friendship.
Tsuji recommended to Yoko that she write “an autobiography of a female art collector” and there remained transcripts of several interviews about her early days. Yoko was not interested in the idea of penning an autobiography and thus, that project soon faded away. However, this time, in addition to Yoko’s interview transcripts, I interviewed Yoko’s sisters, relatives, friends, and the people relevant for the contents of this book, double-checked their comments and statements for authenticity, and then, compiled them into this book.
By a twist of fate, I had written a biography of Yoko, through which I learned the details of her long struggles in life. She continued to ask herself, “How can I generate something from nothing?” and “For what purpose was I born?” She then went on to trailblaze her own path in life. I don’t think Yoko happened to encounter Niki’s work; I believe that she ran into Niki’s art because she had been constantly searching for something. She just perceived it as a fateful encounter. I could not include all the pains and sorrows Yoko had experienced in this book. But the upshot of her story is that she overcame all the adversities and eventually acquired an irreplaceable life that was so fulfilling and so uniquely Yoko.
When I was first introduced to Yoko by my husband Masashi, she said, “Call me Yoko-san. Otherwise, I’ll fine you 100 yen.” I was stunned, and didn’t know what to say.
Looking back, around the time of our wedding, Yoko was going through an extremely hectic period of founding the Niki Museum. When I was invited to Nasu for the first time, Yoko told me with a big smile, “I’m going to build an art museum here, Yuki-chan,” and pointed to a mixed-wood forest. I was dumbstruck again, thinking, “What a lady with such a big-scale project!” I was captivated by her unique personality and the ability to take action. In my eyes, she belonged to a totally different world from mine.
Yet, looking back on her life, I know she was distressed, hurt, angry and depressed just like anybody else.
Yoko used to say, “You can take action no matter how old you are. You shouldn’t use your age as an excuse. Don’t fear failures. If you fail, you make sure you won’t make the same mistake again, and move on.” Now I realize that she was reminding herself as well.
Six years have passed since Yoko’s death. “The Niki de Saint Phalle Exhibition” was scheduled to open this year, 2015, at the National Art Center, Tokyo. The project had progressed quite smoothly, and when I heard that this biography would be published as part of it, I immediately thought, “I bet Yoko and Niki are playing us like the pawns of chess in heaven.” Even now, I feel like I can hear their laughter. Knowing how close they were as friends, I feel warmth in my heart.
To the readers of this book, my hope is that you will know a woman named Yoko Shizue Masuda once lived in this world and you can sense her strong will.
Here, let me share some of Yoko’s words spoken in an interview.
In most stories for girls, particularly in fairy tales, the heroine never grows as a person by going through hardship and joy in an adventure. When girls read Cinderella or Snow White, they can’t be sure about their future. Cinderella is rescued from a miserable life by the Prince. A girl’s future never opens up unless she is helped by others (male figures). That’s true with Snow White, too. Girls’ stories are stories of “waiting” or “being found.”
The only exception is Alice in Wonderland. Although she doesn’t exactly gain her future for herself, she encounters a new self by experiencing wondrous things. The moment I encountered Niki’s art in that gallery, I was an “Alice” in Wonderland. Inside that wonderland, I felt at a loss, wondering what I would encounter. And then, I eventually encountered myself…
While I was going through Niki’s world, I took hold of my future and dreams. The world of Niki’s artworks is Niki’s personal history. At the same time, it’s the personal history of myself and that of any other woman. Niki’s world has universal qualities.
My heartfelt gratitude goes out to those who helped me gather Yoko’s stories through interviews, and others for their cooperation: Sachiko Aoki, Marou Izumo, Kyoko Inamura, Yuki Inoue, Atsuko Ubukata, Junko Ohtani, Yasu Ohashi, Aimei Ozaki, Shuji Oyamada, Fusako Katsuragi, Yoko Kamijo, Osamu Kitagami, Hana Kino, Noboru Kurosu, Kazuko Koike, Mikiko Sato, Haruki Shigekawa, Kimino Takahashi, Chisato Nagai, Eiko Nagano, Shizuko Nakamura, Fuki Nakamura, Haruko Niikura, Yoshimasa Nishizawa, Toshiko Hidaka, Shigeko Hirata, Kazuko Matsuno, Miyoshi Miki, Kazumi Miyamoto, Kyoko Mori, Michiko Yamada and Masako Watanabe.
I am also indebted to the following people although I couldn’t include them in the text: Reiko Dubron who worked tirelessly as Yoko’s interpreter and coordinator in Paris; Yoko Nakano who interpreted for Yoko and translated materials including the letter at the beginning of this book; Nasuka Nakajima who translated letters between Niki and Yoko; Bloum Cardenas, Niki’s granddaughter and a trustee of the Niki Charitable Art Foundation; Yuko Kodama for interpretation; Professor Chizuko Ueno who never hesitated to help us; Soko Miki, who gave me this invaluable opportunity to write this biography; our staffers Kanako Takaku, Naoya Ohira and Yuko Sakuma; Kazuyoshi Takayanagi, who advised me on writing; and my family who have supported me the last two years. Lastly, but certainly not least, my further thanks go to Natsuko Tokuda of NHK Publishing, Inc.
Yoko Shizue Masuda, “Jigoku to Tengoku Ryokyokukan no Eien Naru Sansakusha: Watashi no Niki Do Sanfaru San” (Eternal Stroller between Hell and Heaven: My Praise for Niki de Saint Phalle), Kateigaho, July 1984.
Niki Do Sanfaru Ten (Niki de Saint Phalle Exhibition), exh. cat., Tokyo (Space Niki) 1986. (The English translation attached)
Yoko Shizue Masuda, “Majo ka Tenshi ka: Niki Do Sanfaru wo Tataeru” (Witch or Angel?: In Praise of Niki de Saint Phalle), Ueno, No. 325, May 1986.
Minako Ohba, Tsuda Umeko (Umeko Tsuda), Tokyo, The Asahi Shimbun Company, 1990.
Tsuji Masuda, “Watashi no Ayunda Michi” (The Path I’ve Walked), Nihon Sen-i Shimbun, Oct. 2, 7, 10, 14 and 26, 1990.
Shotaro Ikenami, Edo Kiriezu Sampo (A Walk with the Edo/Tokyo Map), Tokyo, Shincho Bunko, 1993.
Yoko Shizue Masuda, “Kancho Intabyuh: Niki Bijutsukan” (Director Interview: Niki Museum), Acrylart, vol. 27, Jan. 25, 1996.
Niki Museum (ed.), Niki Do Sanfaru: Eiga Daddie wo Mite Niki wo Kataru (Niki de Saint Phalle: Discussing Niki and Daddy), Tokyo, SAIKI-SHA, 1997.
Yoko Shizue Masuda (author and supervisor), Niki Do Sanfaru (Niki de Saint Phalle), Tokyo, BIJUTSU SHUPPAN-SHA CO., Ltd., 1998. (The English translation attached)
“Niki Do Sanfaru: Eiga & Tohku no Yube ni 400 Nin” (Niki de Saint Phalle: 400 Visit Cinema & Talk Event in Evening), E-Furatto (E-Flat), Dec. 1998.
Yoko Shizue Masuda (interview), “Kyodai na Majo no Tainai Meguri ~ Niki Do Sanfaru wo Oikakete ~” (Touring Inside the Gigantic Witch’s Womb: Chasing After Niki de Saint Phalle), Kapurichio, May 2002.
Taito Kuritsu Shitamachi Fuzoku Shiryokan Zuroku (Shitamachi Museum Pictorial Record), Museum Almanac, Tokyo (Shitamachi Museum) 2003. (The English version of the Taito-ku SHITAMACHI MUSEUM Issue 2010 available)
Yoko Shizue Masuda, “Shimotsuke Zuiso: Niki Episodo” (Shimotsuke Essay: Episodes of Niki), Shimotsuke Shimbun, Aug. 2, Oct. 11 and Dec. 20, 2004.
Kyoko Inamura, “Niki Do Sanfaru no Miryoku” (The Attraction of Niki de Saint Phalle), Kurashi to Kyoiku wo Tsunagu We, No. 133, May/June 2005.
Tsuji Masuda, Kaimaku Beru wa Natta: Shiatah Masuda e Yokoso (The Opening Bell Has Rung: Welcome to Theater Masuda), Tokyo, Tokyo Shimbun Publishing Bureau, 2005.
Niki Do Sanfaru Ten (Niki de Saint Phalle Exhibition), exh. cat., Nagoya, Chunichi Shimbunsha, and Osaka, NHK Kinki Media Plan, 2006.
Niki de Saint Phalle (author), Yoko Shizue Masuda (supervisor), Masashi Kuroiwa (photographer), Tarotto Gahden (The Tarot Garden), Tokyo, BIJUTSU SHUPPAN-SHA CO., Ltd., 2008. (The English translation attached)
Niki de Saint Phalle, exh. cat., Paris (Centre Georges Pompidou) 1980.
“25 Top Collectors”, ARTnews, Summer 1996.
Phyllis Braff, “Nasu’s French Twist”, The New York Times, Feb. 9, 1997.
Niki de Saint Phalle-Catalogue Raisonne, Lausanne, Acatos, 2001.
Niki de Saint Phalle, exh. cat., Paris (RMN-Grand Palais) 2014.
Christiane Weidemann, Niki de Saint Phalle, Munich, Prestel, 2014.
About the Author
Yuki Kuroiwa was born in Nagoya City, Aichi Prefecture. From around 2000, she helped manage the Niki Museum (now closed). She became the Director in 2007. Yuki has worked also as an illustrator. Her works include an illustrated poetry book Niji no Kobito (Rainbow Elves) (Chusekisha, 1993; poems by Etsuko Ishida).