Tinguely and Saint Phalle met in 1955. Noticing that Tinguely handled the welded iron skilfully, Saint Phalle asked him to help her construct the metal frame for her first sculpture. From 1960 their collaboration took three quite different forms: they were supporting one another, were taking part to collective actions together with other artists or were conceiving and carrying out a work together, each one expressing his or her own style. As Saint-Phalle was saying: “My sculptures represent a woman’s world, amplified, the madness of women’s greatness, the woman in power. And opposite them, there are aggressive, threatening machines made by Tinguely, representing a man’s world. This represents the night against day, the mythological elements, the dreams, and a man’s ambitions for the machines”. Undoubtedly, Niki needed Jean, his technical knowledge as well as his simultaneously beneficial and unwavering support. Even when they took different emotional paths, Jean was always there to “stabilize” Niki’s works, in order to give them a structure that could support the weight of their eccentricity.
In 1979, Saint Phalle dove into a long-term project: to create a garden mixing nature and sculptures on a vast site located in Tuscany. In the context of this work she created the sculpture of the goddess Athena with her chariot and asked Tinguely to help her in carrying it out. Their collaboration gave rise to the work presented here, which bears the signature of both artists. As anticipated, the result would be diverse: Athena, in the hands of Saint Phalle, certainly still appears conquering, her spear is proudly raised and her voluptuous curves subtly enhanced with bright, joyful colours. But this time, her chariot does not shine brightly. Manufactured by Tinguely, it becomes a machine that he himself defines as useless and therefore quite free, made of rusted materials, obviously second-hand. Nonetheless, this merging of sensuality and mechanics, of fable and practice, from seemingly luxurious to seemingly poor make this Pallas Athena or The Chariot a work full of poetry, humour and wisdom. The use of “or” in the title shows to what extent the roles between the two creators are balanced, and also how their works, once united, manage to form a whole of quite unprecedented strength and originality.