Don't miss Zoe Leonard's Niagara Falls postcard piece at Dia

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Through January 9th, 2011, a 2008 installation piece by Zoe Leonard is on view at Dia: Beacon in the Hudson Valley. I spent a lot of time looking at her obsessive collection of postcards of Niagara Falls, which covered a long wall in the otherwise mostly Minimalist, abstract art mecca. It was nice for me, a photographer, to get sucked in by figurative representation, after room after room of solemn, thoughtful, quiet conceptual art. (The other area I was able to get sucked into in the same way was the Bernd and Hilla Becher exhibition, also a serial suite of images.) The Leonard work consists of thousands of vintage postcards depicting Niagara Falls, arranged in several groupings of cards that are printed with exactly the same image. The identical picture is repeated, over and over again, but with the subtle gradations of tone as a major subject: the ink is sometimes yellowed, due to age and wear and tear, or due to press differences. Now I know who was bidding against me on postcards of Niagara, a place I visited to make pictures a few years ago. I learned that the Falls are a man-made tourist destination, not really a true "natural wonder" at all anymore, due to our efforts in harnessing of the water's power for electricity. The Falls get turned "off" over the winter, and we were there when the flip got switched to get it flowing again, just in time for the thaw and upcoming tourist season. Read more about the manufactured sublime in Ginger Strand's book, "Inventing Niagara," and see some of her own postcard collection here: Leonard's work explores the idea of mass-market tourism and the shaping of a location for that purpose and the idea of the souvenir and the photographic landscape tradition. Her postcards span the half-century from 1900-1950, and, according to the exhibition's curator: "... there is little evidence in Leonard’s ensemble of the far-reaching physical changes that the site underwent during this same period: inter alia, the amount of water flowing over the falls was reduced and regulated daily; certain outcroppings of rock, deemed dangerous, were blasted away; and erosion radically redrew the profile of the Horseshoe Falls. While the icon requires constancy to maintain its status as icon, the suppression in these reproductions of the site’s physical permutations contributes to the elision of the icon into cliché." From: Don't just wish you were here, visit: Dia:Beacon 3 Beekman Street Beacon, NY 12508 T: 845.440.0100

Name index: 
Lisa Kereszi