Agnes Denes (American, b. Budapest, 1931) is the author of six books and since the 1960s has participated in more than 450 exhibitions worldwide. Investigating philosophy, linguistics, mathematics, geography, psychology, history, poetry, and music, she is a pioneering figure in environmental art, earthworks, and Conceptualism. Her ritualistic Rice/Tree/Burial was installed in Sullivan County, New York, in 1968, and over a four-month period in 1982, she produced Wheatfield–A Confrontation, a field of wheat planted and harvested on two acres of rubble-strewn landfill in Manhattan, at what is now the site of the World Financial Center. Denes continues to produce such monumental interventions. In 1996, for Tree Mountain–A Living Time Capsule, a bio-reclamation project in western Finland, Denes enrolled volunteers to plant more than ten thousand pine trees in a pattern derived in part from the golden section; the site will remain legally protected for four centuries. In 2015, a twelve-acre version of Wheatfield was planted in Milan.

Agnes Denes with Pascal’s Perfect Probability Pyramid & the People Paradox—The Predicament (PPPPPPP), 1980/2016. Photo by John McGrail. © Agnes Denes, courtesy Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects, New York.

Invited by the curators Silvia Rocciolo and Eric Stark and members of the New School Art Collection Advisory Group to propose a site-specific work for the University Center dining room, Denes chose to re-envision a work titled Pascal’s Perfect Probability Pyramid & the People Paradox—The Predicament (PPPPPPP), a drawing made in 1980. The original work, on silk vellum, measured just 32 by 43 inches yet had taken nearly two years to execute, depicting thousands of unique figures—some of which are portraits of the artist’s friends and acquaintances—each rendered with the finest-gauge silver-tip pen. Scaled up electronically in a process closely monitored by Denes and transferred to the wall as vinyl cutouts, the figures in the mural remain individually legible. 

John McGrail, Wheatfield—A Confrontation: Battery Park Landfill, Downtown Manhattan—with Agnes Denes Standing in the Field, 1982. © Agnes Denes, courtesy Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects

The pyramid form has been consistent in Denes’ art since the 1960s. In 2000, contemplating this sustained engagement, she wrote: 

There are real pyramids and exotic ones, imaginary and philosophical. They represent logical structures, architectural innovations, and society building…. They can be stone, etched glass, plantings, and even silk. They can be invisible as thought processes, logic and mathematics; trees when they form a forest; conceptual, shaped like a nautilus when a future city; in motion when they seem to awaken; birds when they fly; history when they probe the ancients.1

In 2017, Denes added a dedication and exhortation to the wall text for the dining-hall site at The New School: 

I dedicate this work to the refugees of the world, the homeless, misplaced and unwanted whose wellbeing depends on human kindness and compassion.

It is also a gift to the students. Read the figures, they are you.

  1. Agnes Denes, “A Short History of the Pyramids” (2000), in The Living Pyramid (New York: Socrates Sculpture Park/Socrates Publishing, 2015). See https://socratessculpturepark.org/digital/catalogue-agnesdenes/ (accessed June 4, 2018).
Agnes Denes
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