IL GIARDINO DEI TAROCCHI
The majestic works of Niki de Saint Phalle
immersed in the Mediterranean landscape
Photographs and text ©Cristina Archinto
It was 1974 when Niki de Saint Phalle, forced to undergo a period of convalescence in St. Moritz, met the art collector Marella Agnelli and wife of Gianni Agnelli. The two women immediately like each other and the artist tells her about the project that has been whirling in her head for a while now. Once back in Italy Marella, together with her brothers Carlo and Nicola Caracciolo, decide to make a lot of their land in Garavicchio, in Tuscany, available to her for the creation of Il Giardino dei Tarocchi, a perfect union between art, nature and spirituality. A place where monumental sculptures with round features and bright colors, unique in their kind, suck you into a fantastic world and psychedelic dreams, while maintaining complete harmony with a soft and typically Mediterranean landscape.
The courtyard of the"L'imperatore"
Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002) was a celebrated American-born French artist, known for her artistic versatility across multiple media, including sculpture, painting, installation and performance. Born in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, of French-American parents, Niki spent part of her youth in the United States and her artistic career began in the 1950s, with paintings influenced by the Nouveau Réalisme art movement. However, over time she has become particularly famous for her monumental sculptural works.
Saint Phalle's artistic practice in general is infused with symbolism, feminism and a bold and provocative approach. Many of his sculptural works represent vigorous and assertive female figures, often painted in bright and bold colours. Saint Phalle has used art as a tool for personal expression and as a means to address social issues, such as women's liberation and the denunciation of gender-based violence.
The interior of "L'imperatrice"
The fact remains that one of his most representative projects is certainly The Tarot Garden, a sculptural complex, where the different Arcana of the tarot are represented, a work of love and dedication, created with the help of Jean Tinguely and Doc Winsen, where the imposing and majestic statues seem to come to life. The mythological and mystical figures carved in stone and metal dominate the landscape with their enigmatic presence. Each card represents a unique and complex personality, conveying a sense of ancient wisdom and power. Starting with “The Magician”, as the artist calls him “The great juggler. The God who created the wonderful farce of this world in which we live” and the “Popess, the high priestess of female power”. These two works were built in 1980 together with the most iconic of the architecture-sculptures of this place the "Empress-Sphinx". Placed in a dominant position with respect to the rest of the park, this imposing and opulent figure recalls the Nanas, round and joyful female figures who embody a positive and powerful image of women, born starting from the 1960s. Just as Mondrian had transformed his Paris apartment into a gigantic painting, Niki lived inside the Empress for the entire time the garden was being built. Even today the furnishings are presented as an integral part of the enormous sculpture, a colorful apartment in which the shapes and colors blend with the surrounding environment of the Mediterranean scrub with trees and shrubs resistant to drought and high summer temperatures.
Plants such as juniper, mastic, phillyrea, helichrysum, cistus, laurel, heather, strawberry tree and alaterno are the frame for these giant works of art. There are also several specimens of olive trees, which, reflecting themselves thanks to the small mosaic-style reflective parts of the works, light up as if they were the real protagonists. Plants such as juniper, mastic, phillyrea, helichrysum, cistus, laurel, heather, arbutus and alaternus are the frame for these giant works of art. There are also several specimens of olive trees, which, reflecting themselves thanks to the small mosaic-style reflective parts of the works, light up as if they were the real protagonists.
The mosaics that cover the figures were made with the trecadis technique which consists in the application of fragments of ceramic, glass and mirror, cut irregularly, fixed on white plaster. The purpose of this technique is to be able to create constructions resembling living creatures. An example of this is "La forza" where a tender girl dominates a fearsome green dragon, keeping it tied to an invisible leash, or "The devil" with its multicolored wings.
"La'Imperatrice", the stairs of "Il mago" and "La luna"
Discovering all the cards with the artist's exact wording is very interesting and opens the door to new awareness. Just like the thought that it took the artist more than twenty years to create this garden, in fact demonstrates how connected she was with this enormous work of hers and the personal commitment she invested in it. Also the presence of a local team of people, which the artist has formed and which continues to maintain the garden, testifies to his willingness to involve the local community a lot and to ensure that his work is preserved and cared for over time.
Niki de Saint Phalle is regarded as a highly influential figure in contemporary art and her work continues to be exhibited in leading museums and galleries around the world. His artistic legacy is characterized by his ability to transform personal pain into works of beauty and joy, inspiring generations of artists and art lovers and walking in his garden is a real path towards art in all its forms , a spiritual journey full of messages, which pushes you to reflections out of the ordinary, almost to the limit.