Francesco Clemente, the Ace of Swords, Tackles Tarot

Francesco Clemente, right, posing with writer Salman Rushdie, the King of Swords. (Photo: Patrick McMullan Company)

New Yorker writer Calvin Tomkins, who has been absent from the magazine’s pages since the publication of his profile of painter George Condo in January, reports this week on painter Francesco Clemente’s latest project: portraits of prominent New York cultural figures portraying tarot card characters.

Among the 78 works–one for each card in the tarot deck–are composer Philip Glass as the Judgment card, artist Kiki Smith as the Queen of Disks and actress Paz de la Huerta as–wait for it–the Wheel of Fortune. The works will be shown at the Uffizi, in Florence, in September.

Artist Jasper Johns earned a prime position, as the Pope, because, Mr. Clemente said, “I’ve always thought of Jasper as a poet… Someone who connects this world to the next one.”

And what of Mr. Clemente himself? He is, it turns out, both the Fool–“I am the Fool because the Fool is zero, the first card in the deck… The Fool is all potential,” the artist told Mr. Tomkins–and the Ace of the Swords, a card that is associated with intelligence.

Other artists making appearances are painter Brice Marden and sculptor Rachel Feinstein. Painter and film director Julian Schnabel, alas, is absent, but Mr. Clemente has an explanation for that, which one can read in Mr. Tomkin’s complete piece.

Oddly, this is at least the second time in the past 12 months that contemporary art has ventured into tarot territory. In November of last year, National Arts Club curator Stacy Engman organized an exhibition of cards conceived by 78 different designers and artists. For that set, designer Vivienne Westwood submitted a Juergen Teller photograph of model Pamela Anderson as the Chariot card.

Ms. Anderson is not included in Mr. Clemente’s deck.

Francesco Clemente, the Ace of Swords, Tackles Tarot