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American Society of Landscape Architects


August 2004 Issue

Monument to Metamorphosis
Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden reconsidered.

By Brenda J. Brown

Monument to Metamorphosis
Brenda Brown

Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden sits on the top and in the hollows of a small hill—in fact, the remains of an old stone quarry—just a few miles from the Tyrrhenian Sea on the Maremma Plains of southwestern Tuscany. The garden is immediately surrounded by groves of olive trees and farmed and pastured fields, and the sea is visible to the west from a narrow, oak-lined road into the parking lot. Whether approached from the coast or from the hills to the northeast, part of the garden can be glimpsed from two or three miles away. A cluster of brightly colored gargantuan faces, towers of white and pink and gold, a silvery half-moon, and forms as yet indecipherable rise, sparkling and glinting, above the small bosk around them. Within the agrarian landscape’s placid horizontal curves and autumn’s subdued ochres and muted greens, the forms cast a decidedly fantastical note.

What one sees from afar are mostly the tops of the tallest of the garden’s mosaic and cut-glass-covered structures. The garden has many structures, each based on one of the 22 cards of the tarot’s major arcana. They are anywhere from 3 to 50 feet tall, and some are 70 feet long. Most of the largest sculptures can be climbed and entered; some of their faceted reflective interiors were once inhabited. Other sculptures are inviolable; more traditionally figurative and scaled, these sit informally within groves or centered in niches and clearings. Some sculptures wend and wind around the landscape; some have landscape wending and winding about them. Some merge with the earth; some inhabit larger sculptures’ interiors; some intertwine with other sculptures.

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