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. ”
“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.
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….”
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 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.