Our fifth solo exhibition of works by Agnes Denes is the first to focus primarily on conceptual projects undertaken throughout her long and distinguished career. It traces the evolution of her philosophical explorations from the early 1970s to the present, featuring rarely exhibited works that evince her interests in a wide variety of disciplines ranging from science and mathematics to geography and psychology.
On view for the first time in its entirety is Psychograph (1971–72), a piece that is equally revealing of Denes’s sense of humor as it is of her sincere interest in uncovering the complex motivations of the human psyche.
A penetrating questionnaire was devised by the artist and given to ten artists (Carl Andre, Leon Golub, Hans Haacke, Douglas Huebler, Sol LeWitt, Gordon Matta-Clark, Robert Morris, Adrian Piper, Bernar Venet, Lawrence Weiner) and two critics (Lucy Lippard, John Perrault). Each was asked to complete sentences that began with a list of existential phrases, the results then interpreted by two licensed psychologists. Described by the artist herself as “a multi-faceted, interactive exercise in truth approximations,” the completed work consists of a seventeen-foot-long monoprint that compiles the questions, answers, and analyses, a series of diagrammatic drawings, and Rorschach inkblots made by Denes. She writes:
“Psychograph is an investigation into the nature of communication and perceptions, the hide and seek of the psychosocial phenomena of behavior, the conscious and unconscious mental and emotional process of role-playing in the social arena … Although all participants were given a choice, most preferred to be evaluated and exhibited but not necessarily identified. Their names were deleted from the individual pieces to insure their privacy, including the psychologists who were identified by their professional license numbers only.”
Psychograph is one of several works that are part of Denes’s Study of Distortions, which also encompasses the series entitled Philosophical Drawings (1968–79). The Study of Distortions led to her best-known series of works on paper, Map Projections (1973–81), in which she re-envisions the globe as a fanciful, mathematical form projected into a pyramid, doughnut, egg, snail, cube, hot dog, and other shapes.
The forthcoming exhibition will feature seminal works on paper including a five-part drawing entitled Study of Distortions – Positions of Meaning (1971) that, according to Denes, investigates “the various misunderstandings and discrepancies that can occur in the interpretation of a work of art.” Four large drawings from the Map Projections series, and Syzygy—The Moment of … (1972–73), described by the curator and scholar Peter Selz as Denes’s “most complex and sophisticated visual investigations,” will also be on view.
Another major highlight of the exhibition is Denes’s tour de force, Citadel for the Inner City—The Glass Wall (1975–76), recently exhibited at documenta 14 in Athens and exhibited here in New York for the first time. With this sixteen-foot-long drawing, exquisitely executed in silver ink, Denes proposes: “A long narrow pyramid-shaped wall constructed from solid glass blocks … It is slightly curved, transparent, and elusive to behold, a total contradiction to what is expected of a wall or fortress. It distorts and fragments reality with constantly changing illusions.”
Among the many other works included in this unique presentation of Denes’s art are the print Matrix of Knowledge (1969–70/2017), originally conceived for the landmark exhibition SOFTWARE Information Technology: It’s New Meaning for Art, held at the Jewish Museum in New York and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC in 1970–71 (also on view at documenta 14 in Kassel); and Sheep in the Image of Man (1998), a monumentally-scaled, panoramic photograph that documents a work Denes created while a Fellow at the American Academy in Rome, when she brought a herd of sheep onto the grounds of the Academy. In her statement about the piece she writes:
“My decision to bring sheep into the gardens of the Rome Academy reflects my environmental concerns and calls attention to some of our misplaced priorities. When pitted against the pristine environment of the Academy, the sheep (a symbol for humanity), were intended to create a strong paradox, usually inherent in my art.”
An internationally known pioneer of both conceptual and environmental art, Denes 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, 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); MIT’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); 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); and a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation (2015).
She has participated in more than 500 exhibitions in galleries and museums and is represented in the collections of major institutions worldwide.
Agnes Denes recently participated in documenta 14 and The Garden, ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Denmark. Works by the artist can also be seen in Hybris, Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Castilla y Léon (MUSAC), Spain (through November 19, 2017); Ecovention Europe, Museum De Domeinen in Sittard, Netherlands (through January 7, 2018); From Outrage to Action: Proposals for the Climate, Resources, and the Planet, The Gallatin Galleries, New York University; (September 14 – 21, 2017); Delirious: Art at the Limits of Reason, 1950–1980, The Met Breuer, New York (September 12, 2017 – January 14, 2018); Art in the Open: Fifty Years of Public Art in New York, The Museum of the City of New York (opening November 10, 2017); and Bending Light: Neon Art 1965 to Now, Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, NY, (January 28 – June 24, 2018).