Agnes Denes: Wheatfields for Manhattan

About the Exhibition

Agnes Denes (b.1931, Budapest, Hungary) and her assistants have planted and harvested 1.5 acres of wheat at the Battery Park Landfill. The planting consisted of digging 285 furrows by hand, clearing off rocks and garbage, and then placing the seeds by hand and covering the furrows. Each furrow took two to three hours. Denes and her assistants maintained the field for four months, set up an irrigation system, weeded, put down fertilizers, cleared off rocks, boulders and wires by hand, and sprayed against mildew. On August 16th, Denes harvested the crop, yielding almost 1000 pounds of healthy, golden wheat. Denes describes the project as a “symbol, a universal concept. It represents food, energy, commerce, world trade, economics. It refers to mismanagement and world hunger. It is an intrusion into the Citadel, a confrontation of High Civilization. Then again, it is also Shangri-La, a small paradise, one’s childhood, a hot summer afternoon in the country, peace. Forgotten values, simple pleasures.”

Wheatfields for Manhattan is the second in a Public Art Fund-sponsored series called The Urban Environmental Site Program, whose aim is to bring interest to empty or abandoned areas along the city’s waterfront. The previous project, Alan Finkel’s View for the Catenary Curve, is a water tank viewing station that frames a section of the Brooklyn Bridge in relation to Manhattan’s skyline. It is located in Brooklyn’s Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park.



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From the artist

Wheatfield—A Confrontation © Agnes Denes
2 acres of wheat planted & harvested by the artist on the Battery Park landfill, Manhattan summer l982

After months of preparations, in May l982, 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 sown 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 (l987-90). The seeds were carried away by people who planted them in many parts of the globe.

P.S. The above text written in 1982 has now added poignancy and relevance after 9/11/01.
© Agnes Denes

Wheatfield—A Confrontation was commissioned by the Public Art Fund.