Warhol Museum Displays Artists’ Works in Tarot Card Project


If, as scholars would have us believe, artists are the canaries in the coal mine of our culture, now comes an exhibit that pegs them as potential seers of the future.

The exhibit “Contemporary Magic: A Tarot Deck Art Project,” on display at the Andy Warhol Museum, features the minor and major arcana as reinterpreted by 78 artists, photographers, fashion designers and other creative types, many of whom are known the world over.

Organized by curator Stacy Engman of the National Arts Club, the exhibit is a varied display of 78 tarot cards, each created by a different artist in a wide range of media, including photography, painting and collage.

The Tarot Card deck first originated in Marseilles, France, in the 1400s. But only in the past century were the cards themselves given pictorial meaning. That changed with what has come to be known as the “Rider-Waite tarot deck,” which was commissioned by occult scholar Edward Waite (1857-1942) about 100 years ago.

“It was the first time in the history of the tarot that all of the suit cards were illustrated in the way that has now become familiar to many,” Engman says. “Prior to that, all of the suit cards — the wands, the coins, the cups, the swords — were depicted only by numbers.”

Engman says that, in relation to art history, the Rider-Waite deck probably is the most important modernist tarot deck because it’s the first deck that introduced pictorial equivalents to every single card. “Since then you see different kinds of tarot decks everywhere, and a lot of artists have done their own,” she says. “Salvador Dali did his own tarot card deck; Niki de Saint Phalle made sculptures of the tarot. This is the first deck in history that incorporates 78 interpretations by 78 different creative icons.”

For this project, each artist was matched with a card based on themes that recur in their work. For example, fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld was given the King of Wands, and responded with a picture of himself sitting quite regally in an ultra-modern Lucite chair.

Fashion photographer Terry Richardson, assigned the Two of Wands, submitted an image of himself as a modern day hombre, wearing a Black Flag t-shirt, arms crossed, holding rather ominous looking pistols on each hand. With his tattooed forearms and menacing look, the picture easily could be an ad for the jeans he’s wearing or the cover of a men’s magazine.

And onetime Carnegie Mellon University art student-turned-art-world superstar John Currin turned in a masterful little figural composition of a laughing, party-going couple, in his inimitable style for the Ten of Cups.

Recognizing that with tarot, each combination of cards drawn “is like an art installation in front of you that always changes based on the cards drawn,” Engman began the project three years ago with the idea of combining art and tarot.

“It was a big project that I’ve worked on and researched for several years,” she says. “The artists’ interpretations were really inspired, and liberated the deck in a really amazing way. They’re the true magic in the project. It was a labor of love and wonderful surprises throughout.”

Every single one of the cards is unique and resonant.

“They’re all archetypes and notions of the heroic, transformation, and contemplation in some form,” Engman says. “Without being planned as such, as this project was an experiment as much as anything, you do see incredible archetypal themes that artists gravitated towards within each suit. Even without knowing what the others were doing, for example, the Cups suit has many beautiful aquatic themes, often that reference the sea, in new and diverse ways.”

Although the exhibit debuted in the fall at the National Arts Club in New York, this second presentation at the Andy Warhol Museum is a little different, having integrated Warhol’s personal tarot cards, and a film he shot in 1966 called “Velvet Underground Tarot Cards,” which never has before been exhibited publicly. It was just refurbished last year.

Locals likely will take delight in Yayoi Kusama’s “Queen of Cups,” which features a self-portrait of the reclusive artist who created it. Kusama is the creator of “Infinity Dots Mirrored Room” (1996), the now iconic permanent installation at that museum of the red-dotted mannequins and floor that seem to go on endlessly in a mirrored room.

These additions, plus Patrick McMullan’s card “The Hanged Man,” which features an upside down Andy Warhol, make the exhibit all the more relevant for Pittsburghers, not just in terms of contemporary art, but in relationship to Warhol and Pittsburgh as well.

“It was amazing seeing the project situated in a Warholian context at the museum,” Engman says. “Andy exemplified so much the intersections and cross-over of art and life, which this project is so much about, in addition to questions of contemporary archetypes and notions of the iconic in visual and conceptual themes.”

— Kurt Shaw, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Kurt Shaw is the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review art critic.

Photo — Patrick McMullan’s “The Hanged Man” (left) and Karl Lagerfeld’s “King of Wands.” Andy Warhol Museum.


Guided private visit to Le Cyclop in October

On Saturday 26 October, some lucky visitors to the exhibition at the Grand Palais will also have an opportunity to take a guided private visit to Le Cyclop, the mammoth sculpture located in Milly-la-Forêt, south of Paris. The visit will be led by Bloum Cardenas, grand-daughter of Niki de Saint Phalle and trustee of the Niki Charitable Art Foundation; François Taillade, the director of Le Cyclop; and Jean-Gabriel Mitterrand. At 22.5 meters high and containing 350 tons of steel, Le Cyclop is a unique monument in the history of contemporary art, one that brings together four artistic movements: Dada, Nouveau Réalisme, art cinétique (kinetic art) and art brut (outsider art).

The private tour will leave from the Grand Palais on Saturday 26 October at 9am and return at around 1pm that afternoon. To join the tour, visitors must present an “invité d’honneur” (VIP) badge. RSVP required at fiac.com/vip.html.

Also in conjunction with the exhibition, the films Daddy and Where Is the Monster will be shown in the auditorium of the Grand Palais on Thursday 24 October from 5:00pm to 6:30pm.

In All That Glitters, Saint Phalle’s Mythology Is Told


We live in arid times.

Snug in our cubicles, we are cut off from nature. Safe in our suburban redoubts, we are separated from animals.

Most striking of all, given thousands of years of human history, we live without myths. The stories and images of gods and goddesses that nourished our ancestors, helping them understand themselves and the world, are gone. We’re left with pale substitutes: celebrities. J Lo is a poor stand-in for Athena.

Niki de Saint Phalle understood all this. And the French-American artist, who died in 2002 at age 71, determined to do something about it. She made paintings, prints and sculptures full of images and forms to reconnect us to what we’ve lost. At the same time, she sought to inject a quality not often found in contemporary art — fun.

See how well she succeeded in “Niki de Saint Phalle: Creation of a New Mythology” at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art uptown. Surely you’ve seen her five large sculptures on The Green across from the museum. Don’t stop there. The 54 works from the Niki Charitable Art Foundation inside the Bechtler brim with emotions, ideas and colors to ravish the optic nerve.

Saint Phalle was self-taught. Working and living with artists in the mid-20th century, she sponged up influences from movements such as Cubism and especially Surrealism with its love of the unconscious and use of a distorted reality to express the inner self, dreams in particular.

Employing the strategies of the naïve artist, her work is about emotional directness, not achieving a polished finish. Rather than seduce, she compels. She was unafraid of trying something new. She was also part of her time, and could not avoid, for instance, telling about the changing role of women.

“The Bride,” a larger-than-life sculpture, is a looming figure, benign and scary, covered with found objects such as toy babies, guns, dolls and airplanes. Both a figure to worship and a cultural critique, it’s the wildest “Bridezilla” you’ll ever see.

Saint Phalle loved symbols such as the rising sun on her “Firebird,” the much-photographed sculpture outside the Bechtler. The sun and firebirds appear in several other works as do hearts, skulls, stars and flowers.

She especially loved snakes. They appear over and over, mostly, I think, as symbols of wisdom. That, after all, is what the serpent in the Garden of Eden offered Eve.

Refashioned mythical figures from Egypt (Horus), early America, Mexico and India (Ganesh) appear. She also invented her own. Feeling a lack of positive African-American heroes, she created sculptures of several. On the Green stands a Miles Davis, the jazz great wearing a coat of many colors and blowing a golden trumpet.

Saint Phalle believed in color to chase the blues away. And in fun. A sculpture outdoors on the museum’s second level depicts a man and wife taking their pet tarantula for a walk. What a hoot!

All these works show a marked use of pattern. Saint Phalle covered her pieces, whether in two or three dimensions, with fragments: bits of gold leaf, mirrors, glitter, colored glass, ceramic tiles and polished stones.

As a technique, it breaks up surfaces and gives them visual energy. But it does something more. All that variety in material, texture and color subsume into a satisfying whole, a representation of the interconnectedness of life.

Walking in The Green past “La Cabeza” (“The Skull”), I heard screeching children inside the huge sculpture. They could have been checking out the echo. Or feeling the shivering fear of being inside such a fantastic object. Most likely their sounds were the sounds of pure delight.

They are at the precubicle stage of life and know how to have fun. They gave, I think, what Saint Phalle’s art demands from all of us: a response from the heart.

— Richard Maschal, Charlotte Observer


Richard Maschal is a retired Observer visual art and architecture writer.

Photo 1 — On the Green is Niki de Saint Phalle’s sculpture of Miles Davis. Photo by T. Ortega Gaines.

Photo 2 — “I Woke Up Last Night” (1994) is one of 54 works on display by Niki de Saint Phalle that brims with colors, ideas and emotions. Photo by T. Ortega Gaines.

Photo 3 — “Le Banc (The Bench)” (1991) by Niki de Saint Phalle is on view at The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art through October 3. Photo by T. Ortega Gaines.

Photo 4 — Author Richard Maschal. Photo by Wendy Yang.


Gods and Goddesses at the Bechtler Museum

Reviewing the exhibition “Niki de Saint Phalle: Creation of a New Mythology,” now at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art in Charlotte, North Carolina, Richard Maschal writes in the Charlotte Observer that “we live in arid times,” cut off from nature and from myth. “The stories and images of gods and goddesses that nourished our ancestors, helping them understand themselves and the world, are gone,” he says. “We’re left with pale substitutes: celebrities…”

“Niki de Saint Phalle understood all this,” Maschal goes on. “And the French-American artist, who died in 2002 at age 71, determined to do something about it. She made paintings, prints and sculptures full of images and forms to reconnect us to what we’ve lost. At the same time, she sought to inject a quality not often found in contemporary art — fun.”

The five large sculptures on public display outside the museum and the 54 works inside the Bechtler “brim with emotions, ideas and colors to ravish the optic nerve,” says Maschal. You have the whole summer to see for yourself: “Niki de Saint Phalle: Creation of a New Mythology” will be at the Bechtler through October 3.