This garden was made with difficulties, love, wild enthusiasm, obsession, and most of all, faith. Nothing could have stopped me.
As in all fairy tales, before finding the treasure, I met on my path dragons, sorcerers, magicians and the Angel of Temperance.
Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002)
Rising on low hills of southern Tuscany, not far from the sea, Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden is a village of sculpture that defies time and reality. The sculptures are architectural – stairs to climb, courtyards to discover, and even a home (used at one time by the artist) to explore (The Empress). The art is contemplative and playful at the same time. Both adults and children enjoy the colors, textures and surprises, but each age group takes away very different experiences from the Tarot Garden.
As the Tarot Garden took shape between 1978 and 1998, the works reflected the artist’s ideas about an open way of life in which each person contributes the best of his or her abilities, in which individuals are not placed at any disadvantage and in which imagination is allowed to develop as freely as possible.
The Tarot Garden is in the same tradition of the Italian fantasy gardens of the 16th and 17thcenturies, such as Villa d’Este and Bomarzo. The greatest influence on Saint Phalle was the work of Antoni Gaudi in the Parc Güell in Barcelona, especially in its incorporation of color and mosaics.
The philosophical basis of the garden is the tarot itself. The figures on the cards of the major arcane make up the sculptures – the Hanged Man, the Falling Tower, The Empress, etc.
Upon entering the circular passage through the Wall designed by Mario Botta, a visitor enters a magic world, both symbolically and in reality. The Tarot Garden calls on four senses – sight, smell, hearing, touch. Saint Phalle chose the aromatic plants for the garden, including lavender, rosemary, pine and juniper trees and boxwood. Water gurgles from the mouth of The High Priestess and metallic tinkling, clicks, and creaks sing out from the sculptures of Saint Phalle’s collaborator, lover, then husband, Jean Tinguely.
Rainbow colors meet the eye at every turn from the brilliant pieces of glass and ceramic. Thousands of reflections of people, nature, and the sky sparkle out of mirrored mosaics, including those lining the rooms of the Sphinx (The Empress) – the bedroom occupies one breast, the kitchen the other, a bathroom nestles in a foot, and the mosaic diningroom table shares the body with mirrored couches and chairs.
Visitors reach out to rest hands on a rough cement balastrade, trace a finger over a message written on a ceramic wall, smooth a palm across the head of a nana in a bathing pool in the courtyard of The Emperor (the Castle), or grab hand of one of the filiform “Skinnies.”
The Earth Mothers [Nanas] have been replaced by my ‘Skinnies.’ The ‘Skinnies’ breathe.
They are air sculptures with mythological subjects. You can see the sky or a plant through them. I invite the spectator to look with me through my sculptures.
Air has come into my life. My lungs were severely damaged by working with polyester. Breathing deeply, exercise, walking. Feeling closer to nature changed me. These sculptures reflect that change.
Niki de Saint Phalle (February 1982)
Plan to spend at least half a day in the Tarot Garden. It changes with the time of the day and the path of the sun. Drive south of Grosseto on the Via Aurelia and exit near Capalbio. Follow the signs – it’s not far from the main road. The Tarot Garden opens the first week of April and closes in mid-October. From April to October the garden is open everyday from 2:30pm to 7:30pm. But also, Niki Saint Phalle mandated that from November through March, on the first Saturday of each month, the Tarot Garden is the open, free-of-charge, from 9am to 1pm.
Visit the amusing and informative website for complete up to date information.
A new venue for viewing Niki de Saint Phalle’s works for sale and an up-to-date list of exhibits of her art can be found at artsy.net.
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