A primary figure among the concept-based artists who emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, Agnes Denes is internationally known for works created in a wide range of mediums. A pioneer of several art movements, she is difficult to categorize. Investigating science, philosophy, linguistics, psychology, poetry, history, and music, Denes's artistic practice is distinctive in terms of its aesthetics and engagement with socio-political ideas. As a pioneer of environmental art, she created Rice/Tree/Burial in 1968 in Sullivan County, New York which, according to the renowned art historian and curator Peter Selz, was "probably the first large scale site-specific piece anywhere with ecological concerns."
Wheatfield – A Confrontation, which the scholar and curator Jeffrey Weiss, has called "perpetually astonishing . . . one of Land Art's great transgressive masterpieces" (Artforum, September 2008) is perhaps Agnes Denes's best-known work. It was created during a four-month period in the spring and summer 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). Among her many other artistic achievements is Tree Mountain–A Living Time Capsule, a monumental earthwork, reclamation project and the first man-made virgin forest, situated in Ylöjärvi, in Western Finland. The site was dedicated by the President of Finland upon its completion in 1996 and is legally protected for the next four hundred years.
Agnes Denes is also known for her innovative use of metallic inks and other non- traditional materials in creating a prodigious body of exquisitely rendered drawings and prints that delineate her explorations in mathematics, philosophy, geography, science and other disciplines. Works by Agnes Denes are in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; the Art Institute of Chicago; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Moderna Museet, Stockholm; the Centre Pompidou in Paris; the Israel Museum, Jerusalem; the Kunsthalle Nürnberg and many other major institutions worldwide.
She has completed public and private commissions in North and South America, Europe, Australia and the Middle East, and has received numerous honors and awards including four fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and four grants from the New York State Council on the Arts; the DAAD Fellowship, Berlin, Germany (1978); the American Academy of Arts and Letters Purchase Award (1985); M.I.T's highly prestigious Eugene McDermott Achievement Award "In Recognition of Major Contribution to the Arts" (1990); the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome (1998); the Watson Trans-disciplinary Art Award from Carnegie Mellon University (1999); the Anonymous Was a Woman Award (2007); and the Ambassador's Award for Cultural Diplomacy for Strengthening the Friendship between the US and the Republic of Hungary through Excellence in Contemporary Art (2008).
Denes holds honorary doctorates from Ripon College, Ripon, Wisconsin and Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania and has had fellowships at the Studio for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University and the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at M.I.T. She lectures extensively at colleges and universities throughout the United States and abroad and participates in global conferences. She is the author of six books and is featured in numerous other publications on a wide range of subjects in art and the environment.
Born in Budapest, Hungary in 1931, Agnes Denes was raised in Sweden and educated in the United States. Since her exhibition career began in the 1960s, she has participated in more than 450 exhibitions at galleries and museums throughout the world including, among others, solo shows at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (1974); the Institute of Contemporary Art, London (1979) and retrospective surveys at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. (1992); the Samek Art Gallery, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pa. (2003); and the Ludwig Museum, Budapest, Hungary (2008). Her work has also been featured in such international surveys as the Biennale of Sydney (1976); Documenta 6, Kassel, Germany (1977); the Venice Biennale (1978, 1980, 2001), and more recently The Last Freedom: From the Pioneers of Land Art of the 1960s to Nature in Cyberspace, Ludwig Museum, Koblenz, Germany (October 16, 2011); Systems, Actions & Processes: 1965 - 1975, PROA Foundation, Buenos Aires (through September, 2011); Erre: Variations Labyrinthiques, Centre Pompidou, Metz (September 12, 2011 - March 5, 2012); and Light Years: Conceptual Art and the Photograph: 1964 - 1977, Art Institute of Chicago (December 11, 2011 – March 11, 2012).
Agnes Denes is currently represented by Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects, New York.