Niki de Saint Phalle and the Art of Tarot

April 8, 2021

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Installation view of Niki de Saint Phalle: Structures for Life

Photo credit: Kyle Knodell

Tarot Garden, a central focus of the MoMA PS1 exhibition Niki de Saint Phalle: Structures for Life, was the artist’s life project, constructed from 1979 until her death in 2002. A massive sculptural installation, park, and garden located in Tuscany, the garden manifests Saint Phalle’s deep-seated interest in tarot as a philosophical tool for navigating life’s twists and turns. This conversation with Susan L. Aberth, a leading scholar of occult art and surrealism, and Rachel Pollack, a writer and tarot practitioner who advised Saint Phalle on Tarot Garden, explores Saint Phalle’s work with tarot as an organizing principle for her monumental project, as well as the larger history of tarot and its intersection with art.

This program will be streamed live here on April 8 at 7 p.m. EST. The video will be archived and available to view afterward.

Susan L. Aberth is the Edith C. Blum Professor in the Art History and Visual Culture Program at Bard College. She received her BA from UCLA, MA from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and her PhD from the Graduate Center, City University of New York. Her publications include The Tarot of Leonora Carrington (Fulgur Press, 2020) co-authored with Mexican curator Tere Arcq; and Leonora Carrington: Surrealism, Alchemy and Art (2004, Lund Humphries). She has also contributed to Surrealism and Magic, Guggenheim Venice (2022); Not Without My Ghosts (2020, traveling exhibition in England); Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcendentalist (Phoenix Art Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, 2019), Juanita Guccione: Otherwhere (Napa Valley Museum, 2019), Surrealism, Occultism and Politics: In Search of the Marvelous (Routledge Press, 2018), Leonora Carrington: Cuentos Magicos (Museo de Arte Moderno & INBA, Mexico City, 2018), Unpacking: The Marciano Collection (Delmonico Books, Prestel, 2017), and Leonora Carrington and the International Avant-Garde (Manchester University Press, 2017), as well as to Journal of Surrealism of the Americas, Abraxas: International Journal of Esoteric Studies, Black Mirror.

Rachel Pollack is the author of 46 books, including two award-winning novels, Unquenchable Fire, winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and Godmother Night, winner of the World Fantasy Award. She has also written a series of books about tarot cards known around the world; a book of poetry, Fortune's Lover; and has translated, with scholar David Vine, Sophocles's "Oidipous Tyrannos," ( "Oedipus Rex") under the title Tyrant Oidipous. She designed and drew her own tarot deck, The Shining Tribe Tarot. With artist Robert Place, she has created two more decks, The Burning Serpent Oracle, and The Raziel Tarot. She has taught and lectured on four continents. For eleven years she taught in Goddard College's MFA writing program. Rachel lives in New York's Hudson Valley.

This program is presented in conjunction with Niki de Saint Phalle: Structures for Life.