Agnes Denes's third one-person show at the gallery focuses on her highly innovative sculpture, exhibited here for the first time, and related works on paper. To commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of Wheatfield–A Confrontation, the renowned Land art piece for which Denes planted and harvested two acres of wheat in Lower Manhattan, her rarely seen vintage photographs will also be on view.
A singular figure among the concept-based artists who emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, Agnes Denes is internationally recognized for her pioneering synthesis of Land art and performance, a commitment to ecological issues in monumentally-scaled site works, and exquisitely rendered drawings and prints. This exhibition introduces the artist’s lesser-known but equally innovative investigations in three dimensions.
The main exhibition space will be darkened in order to present sculptural pieces in which transparency, reflectivity, and illumination underscore the philosophical and socio-political exegesis of the artist's seminal works.
The earliest sculpture on view, The World of Thorns (1968), is an illuminated box containing the barbed stems of an imaginary plant. Hand-crafted in clear Lucite by the artist, these pristine objects are reflected infinitely within a cubic Plexiglas construction that Denes made and electroplated herself in order to create mirrored interior surfaces, revealing her experimentations in the fields of science and technology. A related piece, The Debate (1969), holds two miniature human skeletons that confront each other and their own images in an animated argument that reverberates in endless repetition.
Human Dust (1969) consists of two transparent, flattened elliptical disks containing the calcified residue of cremated human remains. The work is accompanied by a poetic text that poignantly and humorously reduces the life of an imagined individual to a series of statistical events, and a group of photographs, created using the same calcareous material. This work was exhibited earlier this year in Light Years: Conceptual Art and the Photograph: 1964–1977 at the Art Institute of Chicago, and will be presented here in New York for the first time.
A drawing entitled The Human Argument (1969–70), first published in Lucy Lippard’s Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972 and now in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, is one of the artist’s earliest and most important statements of “symbolic logic” and other philosophical ideas that have endured throughout her career. Its pyramidal diagrammatic form has inspired successive works in various mediums including the complex neon sculpture entitled The Human Argument IV – Light Matrix, conceived in 1987 and first produced in 2012 for this exhibition. A related large work on paper entitled Art Cures Whatever Ails You (1982), composed of a variety of pills and capsules set within a similar pyramidal grid, will also be on view.
The scholar and curator Jeffrey Weiss has called Wheatfield – A Confrontation “perpetually astonishing … one of Land art's great transgressive masterpieces.” Following a year of preparation, Denes installed the piece with the support of the Public Art Fund during a four-month period in the spring and summer of 1982, planting a field of golden wheat on two acres of rubble-strewn landfill near Wall Street and the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. The piece yielded nearly 1,000 pounds of wheat that was harvested and distributed throughout the world. Photographs from the artist’s archive and personal collection will be on view in the entry gallery.
Born in Hungary in 1931, raised in Sweden, and educated in the United States, Agnes Denes has participated in more than 450 solo and group exhibitions at galleries and museums throughout the world including international surveys such as the Biennale of Sydney (1976); Documenta 6, Kassel, Germany (1977); and the Venice Biennale (1978, 2001, 2003).
A solo exhibition of important drawings from three early series, Agnes Denes: Body Prints, Philosophical Drawings, and Map Projections 1969–1978, is now on view at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica, California (through December 22, 2012). Works by the artist can also currently be seen in Materializing "Six Years": Lucy Lippard and the Emergence of Conceptual Art at the Brooklyn Museum (through February 3, 2013); Ends of the Earth: Land Art to 1974 at the Haus der Kunst, Munich (through January 20, 2013); Green Acres: Artists Farming Fields, Greenhouses and Abandoned Lots at the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, Ohio (through January 13, 2013); and The Body Argument, Galerie Emanuel Layr, Vienna (through November 11, 2012).
Works by Agnes Denes are in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; the Art Institute of Chicago; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; the Israel Museum, Jerusalem; the Kunsthalle Nürnberg; and many other institutions worldwide.
Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects is located on the sixth floor of 535 West 22nd Street, between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues. Gallery hours are 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.