Inspired by Antoni Gaudi’s work in Barcelona and the Parco dei Mostri in Bomarzo, de Saint Phalle artist Niki de Saint Phalle created what has become one of the greatest sculpture gardens of the 20th century: Il Giardino dei Tarocchi (The Tarot Garden).
This post is mostly images, because they convey so much more than my words could.
The Garden is not visible from the road and as you cross a meadow to get to a parking lot you have no sense of what it is that you’re about to see. Even after you enter the Garden proper you must take a meandering path up a hillside, all the while wondering what it is you got yourself into. An imposing wall guards the entrance. And then you enter, and so much is revealed! Looming over the Garden, central to everything, is a huge black empress. Her gleaming ruby crown and blue hair filled with stars are simply magnificent, as are her perfect out-thrust breasts. Tiles like rose petals cover her body her torso, ending in the legs of a lion. Unlike the sphinx of mythology, this creature’s smile is welcoming rather than enigmatic; you feel invited to explore.
Started in 1979 and officially opened to the public in 1998, the Garden was expanded and developed until Ms. Saint Phalle’s death in 2002. Then, in accordance with her expressed wishes, all work on new sculptures ceased. Thereafter all work continues only in terms of conservation, maintenance, restoration, and management of the garden. The Tarot Foundation, formed in 1997, carries on this work, with plans to carry out the artist’s explicit visions in the years ahead.
Ultimately, the Tarot Garden is a living, visionary piece of art covering fourteen acres. Most of the pieces are huge — 12-15 yards tall – and they are wonderfully inviting. Female sexuality and power are celebrated everywhere you look: breasts and penises are decorated with hearts and flowers; poetry, musings, and magical knowledge are inscribed in the plaster and concrete itself. “I’m following a course that was chosen for me, following a pressing need to show that a woman can work on a monumental scale,” she wrote to a friend, “Men’s roles seem to give them a great deal more freedom, and I was resolved that freedom would be mine.”