Wheatfield – A Confrontation
Agnes Denes, a conceptual artist with multi-faceted personality and talent was a Hungarian born American based out of New York. She is a respected artist with a rich portfolio in the field of poetry, philosophical writings, complex hand and computer generated drawings, sculpture, and international environmental installations.
Her best known work in the arena f ecological art was Wheatfield – A Confrontation. More popularly known as the wheatfield project, it was a stark visual contrast between a beautiful golden field of wheat and the cold urban cityscape and skyscrapers of downtown Manhattan. The thought for planting an expansive wheatfield instead of yet another public sculpture came to Denes from her long standing concern and a desire to call to attention the misplaced priorities of humans and declining human values.
Denes, in Wheatfield – A Confrontation explores the natural cycle of development and restoration. This work was Denes’ effort to call to attention the need to rethink the priorities of people. The chosen venue or site for the installation was a landfill near the World Trade Center, probably one of the most unlikely spots to be chosen for crop production. With the help of workers and random volunteers who came and joined the project an expansive area of about 4 acres was first cleaned up, topsoil was spread and 1.8 acres of wheat fields were planted. Random volunteers would turn up at the site and join the work and Denes admits the priceless contribution they all made. A clever irrigation system to sustain and regulate the growth of the wheat over the next four months.
With each change of season the panorama changed too and transformed the whole landscape. In summers it was a green vista of long stems and stalks reaching out to the sky and by early autumn it took on a gorgeous brilliant amber. Towards the end of fall, Denes harvested a thousand pounds of the golden grain.
Wheatfield is known to have affected many lives, coaxing reactions from people that ranged from surprise to wet eyes. After the project was over, the site facing the New York Harbor was used as a construction site and the area was closed yet again to merge with the rest of steel and concrete. But the memories and impact of the project would surely remain intact in the memory book of this eclectic city.
Wheat is a grain that is planted all through the world and by planting this universal grain as a part of this project, the artist drew attention to the world hunger and alarming mismanagement of resources. Wheat was transformed from the humble grain to a significant symbol with multiple layers. The site was chosen beautifully as it was located just a little way away from the stock exchange. This project actually orchestrated a coming together of city and country activities for a brief while. After the grain was harvested, it travelled around the world as a part of the exhibition named International Art Show for the End of World Hunger that was organized by the Minnesota Museum of Art and the hay was fed to the horses of New York City Police Department thus completing the entire ecological cycle.