Conceptual artist Agnes Denes, born in 1938, draws from science and philosophy in her art. She was educated at the New School for Social Research and Columbia University in New York City. Fascinated by Einsteinian physics, she explores the structure of matter and idea, and, it is said, the mysteries of human existence. Mathematical diagrams and projected maps, often on graph paper, such as the "Study of Distortion Series: Isometric Systems in Isotropic Space: The Snail," or the "Pyramid Series," reflect this.
Denes says, "We must create a new language, consider a transitory state of new illusions and layers of validity, and accept the possibility that there may be no language to describe ultimate reality, beyond the language of visions." She is interested in the invisible becoming visible and has completed a series of extremely close-up photographs.
Agnes Denes is one of the originators of Conceptual art as an American artist. Denes has investigated the physical and social sciences, philosophy, linguistics, psychology, art history, poetry and music and transformed her explorations into works of visual art. Denes is also a pioneer of environmental art, dealing with ecological, cultural and social issues in her work which is often monumental in scale.
Perhaps best know for Wheatfield -- A Confrontation (1982), a two-acre wheat field she planted and harvested in downtown Manhattan, a work that addresses human values and misplaced priorities. In 1996 she completed in Finland "Tree Mountain -- A Living Time Capsule", a massive earthwork and reclamation project that reaches four-hundred years into the future to benefit future generations with a meaningful legacy.
In 1998 she planted a forest of endangered species in Australia and a cropland in the heart of Caracas, Venezuela. Agnes Denes has had over 325 solo and group exhibitions on four continents, including Documenta VI in Kassel (1977), three Venice Biennales (1978, 1980, 2001) and "Master of Drawing" Invitational at the Kunsthalle in Nurnberg (1982).
She has shown at the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. In 1992 she had a major retrospective at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum at Cornell University, for which five art historians contributed catalogue essays. An artist of enormous vision, Denes has written four books and holds a doctorate in fine arts.
Among her numerous awards are the Rome Prize for the American Academy in Rome (1997-98); the Eugene McDermott Achievement Award from M.I.T., "In Recognition of Major Contribution to the Arts" (1990); the American Academy of Arts and Letters Purchase Award (1985); four National Endowment Fellowships and four NYSCA grants; and the DAAD Fellowship from Berlin. Denes is a Research Fellow at the Studio For Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University; the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at M.I.T. and the Courant Institute at N.Y.U. She lectures extensively at universities in the U.S. and abroad and has participated in global conferences in Moscow, Oxford, Rio de Janeiro, Kyoto, etc.
Selected public collections include: Metropolitan Museum of Art, MOMA and Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; National Museum of American Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art; and Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.; Kunsthalle, Nurnberg; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Israel Museum, Jerusalem; Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio; Honolulu Academy of Arts, Hawaii; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania, and many others.
After months of preparations, in May 1982, a 2-acre wheat field was planted on a landfill in lower Manhattan, two blocks from Wall Street and the World Trade Center, facing the Statue of Liberty. Two hundred truckloads of dirt were brought in and 285 furrows were dug by hand cleared of rocks and garbage. The seeds were down by hand and the furrows covered with soil. The field was maintained for four months, cleared of wheat smut, weeded, fertilized and sprayed against mildew fungus, and an irrigation system set up. The crop was harvested on August 16 and yielded over 1000 pounds of healthy, golden wheat.
Planting and harvesting a field of wheat on land worth $4.5 billion created a powerful paradox. Wheatfield was a symbol, a universal concept, it represented food, energy, commerce, world trade, economics. It referred to mismanagement, waste, world hunger and ecological concerns. It called attention to our misplaced priorities. The harvested grain traveled to twenty-eight cities around the world in an exhibition called "The International Art Show for the End of World Hunger", organized by the Minnesota Museum of Art (1987-90). The seeds were eventually carried away by people who planted them in many parts of the globe.
A huge manmade mountain measuring 420 meters long, 270 meters wide, 28 meters high and elliptical in shape was planted with eleven thousand trees by eleven thousand people from all over the world at the Pinzio gravel pits near Ylojarvi, Finland, as part of the massive earthwork and land reclamation project by environmental artist Agnes Denes. The project was officially announced by the Finnish contribution to help alleviate the world's ecological stress. Sponsored by the United Nations Environment Program and the Finnish Ministry of the Environment, Tree Mountain is protected land to be maintained for four centuries, eventually creating a virgin forest. The trees are planted in an intricate mathematical pattern derived from a combination of the golden section and the pineapple/sunflower patterns.
Tree Mountain is the largest monument on earth that is international in scope, unparalleled in duration, and not dedicated to the human ego, but to benefit future generations with meaningful legacy. People who planted the trees received certificated acknowledging them as custodians of the trees. The certificate is an inheritable document valid for twenty or more generations in the future. The project is innovative nationally and worldwide. This is the very first time in Finland and among the first ones in the world when an artist restores environmental damage with environmental art planned for this and future generations. Tree Mountain, conceived in 1982, affirms humanity's commitment to the future well being of ecological, social and cultural life on the planet. It is designed to unite the human intellect with the majesty of nature.
My work ranges between individual creation and social consciousness.
It addresses the challenges of global survival and is often
monumental in scale.
My environmental works include: Wheatfield -- A Confrontation, a 2-acre wheatfield planted and harvested in Manhattan's financial district on land worth $4.5 billion, in order to make a statement about misplaced priorities.
North Waterfront Park Masterplan of a 97-acre landfill was the first conversion to propose bioremediation programs and a 12-acre wildlife sanctuary (Berkeley, 1990).
Tree Mountain -- A Living Time Capsule is a vast earthwork and reclamation project involving eleven thousand people who came from all over the world to plant trees on a mountain built from mined land material. Now a national monument, Tree Mountain will be maintained for four centuries thereby creating a virgin forest. Planters received certificates of custodianship valid for twenty generations in the future--a first in human history (Finland, 1992-96).
In 1998 I planted a forest in Melbourne, Australia. Six thousand trees were planted into five spirals with trees of varying heights thereby creating a step pyramid for each spiral. These forests stop land erosion and desertification.
Early this year I completed Poetry Walk: Reflections--Pools of Thought, The project consists of 20 large granites carved with poetry, embedded into the lawn of the University of Virginia, 535x50 ft. The work includes a Time Capsule to be opened 3000 A.D.
Presently I am invited to work on the Belvedere Project in Holland, which consists of bringing into prominence all the 19th century forts in an 85 kilometer long line in the center of Holland. I am a finalist also on the Irish Hunger Memorial, a half-acre site in Battery Park City in Manhattan, scheduled for completion in 2001.
The philosophy behind my work is to create intelligent and beautiful works of art that educate people and earn their place in the public arena by making people feel good about themselves and their surroundings. My work speaks to people from all walks of life creating a strong impact that becomes identified with the site, building or neighborhood, giving it special identity.