Warhol Museum Displays Artists' Works in Tarot Card Project

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If, as scholars would have us believe, artists are the canaries in the coalmine 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. …