Artist and environmentalist Diana Wege studied one of Frederic Churchs masterpieces for a decade. Her impulse was to focus on Churchs traditional representation of Niagara Falls as a way to raise contemporary awareness of the climatic and environmental challenges we face today. The result is Sacred Site, an installation of twelve hand-painted full-scale replicas of Churchs largest painting, Niagara, from the American Side. Placed in the North Meadow at Olana State Historic Site
, this installation is accessible and free for all visitors to Olanas designed historic landscape.
Of the twelve canvases she painted, Wege altered four of them to emphasize abstract qualities of Churchs imagery. A closer look at all the reproductions shows changes which reflect humanitys destructive impact on our planet. Through the paintings and their orientation toward Mount Merino, a forested hill within Olanas viewshed which was protected from development in 2008, Wege invites the viewers to reflect on the interactions between humans and the natural world.
The experience of painting Frederic Churchs Niagara helped me to see Church as a problem solver in his own right, said artist Diana Wege. Church found solutions and acted on them, whether through choosing colors and forms in his painting, deciding to rewild Olanas landscape with native species, or helping to preserve Niagaras profound force and beauty from exploitation. Sacred Site is where we can come together at this critical time to solve problems for the future health of our planet and generations to come.
We are excited to present Diana Weges iconic Niagara paintings out in Olanas landscape, said Mark Prezorski, The Olana Partnerships Senior Vice President and Landscape Curator. These works will help us to tell many stories at Olana this season, including Frederic Churchs advocacy for public parks, as well as more recent efforts to protect Olanas integral viewshed.
Sacred Site coincides with The Olana Partnerships celebration through programming and projects of Frederic Churchs contribution to the formation of our countrys public parks as a lead advocate to create the first State Park in the U.S. at Niagara, and as the landscape architect of Olana, a New York State Historic Site and National Historic Landmark. This year is also Frederick Law Olmsteds 200th birthday. Olmsted was a vital cohort in preserving Niagara Falls as an international public park and the designer of Central Park, of which Church was a commissioner.
Visitors and program participants will get the chance to experience the relative scale of Churchs landscapes and explore how artists like Church and Wege are inspired by the natural world, said Carolyn Keogh, The Olana Partnerships Director of Education and Public Programs. This project provides an anchor to discuss ideas around Churchs process, his involvement in the creation of the Niagara Reservation, and the ways we interact with our natural environments.
When Frederic Church unveiled his first major painting of Niagara Falls in 1857 (Niagara, National Gallery of Art), he defied period claims that the subject was so overwhelming that no painting could do it justice. Churchs groundbreaking panoramic view over the precipice of the Falls astonished period audiences; one reviewer famously described it as Niagara, with the roar left out! This Niagara earned Church critical acclaim across both the United States and Great Britain, launching an international reputation and financial success that few could rival. Church, not satisfied with just one famed canvas of the iconic Falls, returned to the subject in major paintings twice more, producing Under Niagara of 1862--presently unlocated, with a chromolithograph and study in the Olana collection--and 1867s Niagara Falls, from the American Side that is the focus of this installation.
Sacred Site is fascinating evidence of the afterlives of Churchs work in contemporary art, and also a rare chance for our audiences to encounter the full immersive impact of Churchs monumental oil on canvas practice in the Olana landscape he designed, said William L. Coleman Director of Collections and Exhibitions of The Olana Partnership
Sacred Site is free to view at Olana State Historic Site every day from 8 AM until sunset until October 31, 2022. While on view at Olana, Sacred Site will also be a component of The Olana Partnerships public programsincluded in the Environmentalists on Olana series to connect Frederic Church to climate change and New York States waterways, in an artmaking tour for older adults, and through a webinar that will focus on the role Niagara played in the history of abolitionists and black artists. To learn more about Sacred Site by Diana Wege, visit Olana.org/sacredsite.