Postmodern Postcard Projects Are Something to Write Home About

postcard niagara.jpgIn his highly amusing 1971 manifesto on postcards, artist Tom Phillips breaks down the general categories of postcards, from “news from another planet” and “o châteaux, o saisons” to “pastoral/historical” and finally, “national cliché compendium,” as exemplified in a card featuring a “kilted bagpiper in the heather seen through thistles with inset of haggis.” Two new projects seize upon the power and enduring versatility of the postcard, even as the art of letter-writing is in its long-winded death throes. Writer and New Yorker editor Ben Greenman is using postcards to invite reader participation in his new book, a limited-edition, letterpress short story collection, while photographer and installation artist Zoe Leonard amassed thousands of vintage postcards of Niagara Falls for her upcoming exhibition at Dia:Beacon. The show takes its title from the terse message inscribed on one card: “You see I am here after all.”

pcard project.jpgSlated for release in November, Greenman’s Correspondences (Hotel St. George Press) promises “a bittersweet glimpse at the lost art of letter-writing, and the manner and means by which emotions are conveyed in that form.” The book will also be an art object in itself; it is being hand-crafted by letterpress and design studio Blue Barnhouse as an unfolding chip-board casing with pockets for three accordion books. A fourth pocket contains a postcard that the reader can use to fill in the gaps in the collection’s final story and send in for possible publication in future online and paperback editions of the book. Greenman has also brought his experimental “Postcard Project” online, where he has issued a call for postcards bearing literary fragments that will help to bring his story “fully to life.”

Zoe Leonard 2008.jpgLeonard’s exhibition, which opens Sunday at Dia:Beacon, is a testament to the power of the postcard to transform mass culture, tourism, even the natural wonders that are frequently its subjects. “The postcard creates the future of the site shown in it,” Phillips wrote in his manifesto. “After two or three postcards had appeared, Carnaby Street started to become a postcard reproduction of itself.”

The monumental installation of thousands of postcards will both reflect Leonard’s favored approach of reframing images and engage with the Smithsons, Lewitts, and Warhols also on view at the museum. Viewers will be confronted with tiny rectangle after tiny rectangle of Niagara Falls scenes grouped by vantage point and changing with the technology of the times, from hand-colored cards of the early 1900s to the cropped shots and saturated hues of the post-war era. As for the exhibition’s title message (“You see I am here after all”), Phillips would disagree. Among his list of postcard axioms is: “The postcard does not constitute proof that anything happened or that anyone was there or that there were or were not clouds in the sky.”