New York Art@Site Agnes Denes Wheatfield, A Confrontation

Agnes Denes


Wheatfield, A Confrontation

Battery Park City
Before the high-rises, condos and financial centers of Battery Park City, the area behind the Twin Towers was a landfill. In 1982, artist Agnes Denes was commissioned by the Public Art Fund to create one of the most significant pieces of public work Manhattan has ever seen (well, in my opinion). Instead of a sculpture, Denes planted a beautiful golden wheat field, right next to the gleaming silver towers of the World Trade. For Wheatfield – A Confrontation, Denes and volunteers removed trash from the 4 acres of land, then literally planted amber waves of grain atop the area. After months of farming and irrigation, the field produced wheat, and the artist and her volunteers harvested thousands of pounds of wheat that was given to food banks in the city. Art for social change...
Arguably her best known work. It was created during a six-month period in the spring, summer, and fall of 1982 when Denes, with the support of the Public Art Fund, planted a field of golden wheat on two acres of rubble-strewn landfill near Wall Street and the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan (now the site of Battery Park City and the World Financial Center).
Born in Budapest, Hungary in 1931, her family survived the Nazi occupation and moved to Sweden in the mid-1940s. As a teenager, they relocated again to the United States. She has said that the repeated change in language caused her to focus on the visual arts - having"suddenly been silenced." She studied painting at the New School and Columbia University in New York, and exhibited and sold some of her work. She soon abandoned painting, due to the constraints of the canvas, and focused broadly on ideas she could explore in other mediums."I found its vocabulary limiting"
She has since participated in more than 450 exhibitions at galleries and museums throughout the world, and has written 6 books. At some point in the late 1960s-1970s, she was married and has one son, Robert T. Frankel.
One of the early pioneers of both the environmental art movement and Conceptual art, Agnes Denes brings her wide ranging interests in the physical and social sciences, mathematics, philosophy, linguistics, poetry and music to her delicate drawings, books and monumental artworks around the globe.
In 1982, she carried out what has become one of the best-known environmental art projects when she planted a two-acre field of wheat in a vacant lot in downtown Manhattan. Titled, Wheatfield -- A Confrontation, the artwork yielded 1,000 lbs. of wheat in the middle of New York City to comment on"human values and misplaced priorities". The harvested grain then traveled to 28 cities worldwide in"The International Art Show for the End of World Hunger" and was symbolically planted around the globe.
In 1996 Denes completed"Tree Mountain -- A Living Time Capsule" in Finland. This massive earthwork and reclamation project involved the construction of a"mountain" on the site of an old gravel quarry and the planting, by volunteers from different countries, of 11,000 Finnish Pine trees in an intricate pattern. The volunteers were then each given inheritable certificates (valid for 400 years) which granted them responsibility for the stewardship of one of the trees. This project was first announced by the Government of Finland at the World Summit in Rio de Janeiro as a contribution to global ecology.
Other projects have included reforestation of endangered tree species in Australia in 1998, planting crops in downtown Caracas, Venezuela as well as exhibitions of mathematically inspired drawings, book projects and installations in major museums worldwide. In a prolific career spanning the history of the environmental art movement, Agnes Denes has consistently pushed the boundaries of ecologically inspired art. She has created works of stunning beauty linked not only to the cycles of life but to notions of human stewardship and responsibility.