TAROT GARDEN: Daddy & Arcanes of the Dark Psyche

Not a typical garden….. at least an Eden, chaotic and radical whose gatekeeper was the intuitive feminine whose charged powers of women were absorbed with the magical and spiritual power of objects. Niki De Saint Phalle kept delving deep into the European psyche. What makes her art live is the darkness she found there: The Hanged Man, the Devil – and Daddy. Niki de Saint Phalle’s a creative intelligence who could take and transform the masqerade of female decoration as consumption into a terrifying metaphor for female rage as the default position of post-modernism; making explicit the links between women, toys, rape, colonialism and canonfodder. She went far beyond the imported analyzes of the time such as  Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique with its description of “the Happy Housewife Syndrome” and materialist and racist undercurrent. De Saint Phalle’s added a violence and gender sophistication ……

“It was all up to you, Niki De Saint Phalle, and you invited all the forces and mysteries to participate. You created your own Council out of the Archetypes of the Tarot ,and you my dear artist, danced among them and inside them, teased them, laughed and cried, debated, stood right in front of them all, sweating, while your back hurt, and your fingers were dirty with mud and pigments for some time. ”

"Tarot Garden, a sculpture park in Tuscany. The Wheel of Fortune in the water was created by her husband, Jean Tinguely. The Tarot Garden features mirrors, glass and ceramic mosaics. De Saint Phalle had never used these materials before and they show the influence that Antonio Gaudí had on her work. This park contains Nana-like figures as well as the "skinnies" which proceeded them. You can see a skinny in the water in the photo here, the blue figure with an open wirey structure. Serpents, fountains and sculptures you can walk into are often a part of her work. They appear here on a grand scale. There is a fun, theme park quality to the place with its bright colors and sensual rounded forms covered with elaborate surface designs. A relation to "outsider " art such as the Watts Towers can also be seen in this playful portrayal of the arcana of the Tarot deck."

“Life is like a card game, and we are born not knowing the rules, but each of us must continue playing the game we are dealt. Is Tarot only a card game or does it hide a philosophy?”

Jonathan Jones: “I’d even forgotten the letter she once sent me, declaring that this 1973 film was her attempt to deal with her memories of an abusive father, and not, as some have claimed, the creepy fantasy of her collaborator, director Peter Whitehead. In Daddy, a bizarre pastiche of late Visconti, a badly made-up aristocrat plays “games” with his daughter, “Niki”; the camera broods on the fine house and landscape, and the little girl’s stripy stockings. Even in the context of avant-garde film making, it contains some extremely disturbing scenes.

"She called the works made with a gun "Target" paintings, drawing an explicit parallel with her friend Jasper Johns' Targets. The thing is, the paintings that resulted from what sound like hugely enjoyable happenings endure as works of art long after the creative fun has ended. You intuit something of the casualness, energy and pleasure. And among the pockets of exploded paint, De Saint Phalle's demons start to materialize, demons that loom larger and larger in the show, climaxing with a statue of the devil himself."

De Saint Phalle, as this film reveals, came from an aristocratic French background, although she grew up in New York. She started making art after a nervous breakdown in her early 20s, and throughout her long career was always in some sense an “outsider artist”, bringing a naive, spiky sensibility into a sophisticated art world.

Daddy starts to explain the broken toys and bridal dresses that haunt her rich, baroque art. It doesn’t leave you with any illusion that she is a cozy artist. Throughout the show, danger looms. “Grotesque vitality” was the phrase I found myself mumbling.

It begins, this terrible energy, after some dull early works, when she starts throwing darts at a portrait of her lover to create her work Saint Sebastian. Then she buys a gun. In the early 1960s, she began loading boards of wood with plastic bags full of paint. She put on her special shooting suit and blasted away at them, inviting friends such as Robert Rauschenberg to take potshots….”

"The garden works because the tarot pack is one of Europe's most seductive arcana. The oldest surviving tarot cards were made for the 15th-century Dukes of Milan: they are hand-painted Renaissance masterpieces. Yet De Saint Phalle based her garden on the coarser, more popular Frenc

ck: unlike the medieval packs, which had their most ill-omened images superstitiously removed, it features the ultimate arcanum, the wildest card of all: Le Diable."

Influenced by Gaudí’s Parc Güell in Barcelona, and the garden in Bomarzo, de Saint Phalle decided that she wanted to make something similar; a monumental sculpture park created by a woman.

When Niki de St. Phalle confided her lifelong dream to build a sculpture garden based on the symbols from the Tarot cards to her friend Marella, wife of Fiat (Italian cars) owner Gianni Agnelli, Marella and her brothers gave her a large piece of land where in Garavicchio,near Capalbio in Tuscany, Italy, about 100 km north-west of Rome along the coast, in 1979.

"The Tarot Garden features mirrors, glass and ceramic mosaics. De Saint Phalle had never used these materials before and they show the influence of Antonio Gaudí. This park contains Nana-like figures, serpents, fountains and sculptures you can walk into are often a part of her work. "

The garden, called Giardino dei Tarocchi in Italian, her most ambitious work, contains sculptures of the symbols found on Tarot cards. The garden took many years, and a considerable sum of money, to complete. Jean Tinguely and his All Star Swiss Team took on the task of welding the Tarot sculptures. The garden opened in 1998, after more than 20 years of work.

---Painter and sculptor Niki de St. Phalle, was able to find “a fertile outlet for her ferocious rage toward men — and the dominant masculine art establishment — via the creative expression of violence in her highly controversial work.” “Her famous ’shooting paintings’ resulted from firing live ammunition at paint-filled, white-washed balloons mounted on a blank, virginal canvas. “Thus, rather than becoming a crazed killer or vengeful victimizer of men, de St. Phalle’s fury — some of which stemmed from having been sexually abused by her father — fostered a fecund creativity, that served her well throughout her prolific career.”---Douglas Eby

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