There is a place in the heart of the Maremma that seems to have come out of a fairy tale. This is the Tarot Garden of Capalbio, in Tuscany, conceived and designed by the French-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle.
Two hectares (about 5 acres) of land are home to these huge statue-constructions that refer to the Major Arcana of Tarot cards. This is as place where sculpture, architecture, decorations and landscape art come together to create, according to what the artist said, a “… garden of joy … a little corner of Paradise”.
The Garden is home to a total of 22 colourful statues and architectural forms, offering wonderfully overflowing and imaginative shapes. The cement and polyester creations are covered with mosaics made with glass, mirrors or ceramics. The soft shapes refer to a rather feminine, mysterious and powerful archetype. In fact, behind an apparent playful disorder, there is an esoteric path whose theme is motherhood.
Once through the entrance, visitors find themselves in front of The Magician and The Empress, fused together, which overlook a circular pool on which the Wheel of Fortune is placed. Then the path is free, and it is a continuous surprise as the Tree of life, from whose trunk sprout three colourful snakes. You can also enjoy Justice in whose body there is a room closed by a gate that reveals the injustice confined inside. Based on the will of the artist, there is no obligatory path. Inscriptions with quotations, thoughts, drawings and numbers accompany the visitor in a constant shifting that is physical but also spiritual.
This enormous project took 17 years and cost about 10 billion lire, entirely self-financed by the artist through exhibitions, book conferences and even the sale of perfumes.
As a whole, the park was designed by the artist who lived in the last part of her life in the park, inside The Empress, a statue-architectural construction in the form of a sphinx that is also set up for living. Such a complex creation required the work of architects, decorators, multi-material artists, ceramists, and botanists. The entrance and ticket office were designed by Mario Botta, an architect famous around the world for having created the dome of the Mart in Rovereto.
The idea of the park has illustrious precedents, such as the Park of the Monsters of Bomarzo in Lazio, or the Park Güell of Barcelona, which the artist visited in 1955 and that clearly left left an indelible memory. She said that she had met her destiny.
Catherine Marie-Agnès de Saint Phalle was an unusual woman, born in 1930 from an American actress and an aristocratic French banker. These were clearly two irreconcilable worlds. Rebellious and impatient with any rules, she dedicated herself to theatre, cinema and fashion. However, in the 1950s she channelled her life into a bourgeois lifestyle, a marriage and children, despite the fact that this was when she also began approaching art.
But rules were not for her. Impatience took on dramatic tones. Her descending parabola began, including depression, hospitalization in a psychiatric clinic, and finally treatment using electroshock. This enormous suffering marked the starting point of her artistic career. She herself would later admit, “I was lucky to meet art, I had everything to become a terrorist”.
In these years her artistic production switched between sculptures and performances with which she expresses the violence of modern society and the painful condition of women – including her father’s attempted rape when she was 11 years old. The turning point took place with the Nanas in the mid-1960s – joyful female statues with exuberant forms, a symbol of femininity that is self-confident, yet also representative of the feminine that can be found in all of us as a regenerative vital form.
In 1996, she created a monumental Nana about to give birth (28 m L x 6 m H and 9 m. wide) for the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, which can be visited by the public entering through the vagina. Inside, there was a cinema and an exhibition of fake paintings, as well as a bar and even a planetarium. The artist imagined it as a sort of cathedral in which visitors enter as if to return to the Great Mother.
Her work continued in the name of large monumental works with dreamlike forms, almost always a reference to the female world. However, in 1978 on land donated by the Agnelli Caracciolo family, she began to build the park that opened to the public in 1998 and where she would work up until her death 4 years later. Today, this place is her true legacy, a magical place that attracts art experts and families alike. Tarot Garden is miracle of intelligence, a true invitation to joy.
For further information, please visit: http://www.giardinodeitarocchi.it/
Niki Charitable Art Foundation http://nikidesaintphalle.org.
For an interactive visit http://ilgiardinodeitarocchi.it/visit/interactive-map/
Anna Maria Calabretta