Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects, New York
Through Jan. 19
Agnes Denes deserves to be given her own full-scale museum retrospective, said Ken Johnson inThe New York Times. This exhibition at the Leslie Tonkonow gallery is a nice introduction, but it only hints at “how far and wide” the 81-year-old artist has ventured in her work. Back in the mid-1960s, when “it seemed that there was no room for consequential innovation in painting and sculpture,” this Budapest-born, New York–based innovator had a singular response. Robert Smithson and Michael Heizer packed off to remote locations to create herculean earth sculptures. Another group “went inward to explore landscapes of the mind.” Denes did both—and quite effectively, to judge by the evidence here. Documentary photographs must stand in for her large environmental works, but there are enough precision-executed smaller works to suggest how much ground she’s covered just by following her own fascination with mortality and infinity.
Denes excels at using the intimate to “evoke the universal,” said Carol Kino, also in the Times. Human Dust, from 1969, puts actual cremated human remains on a pedestal to show us where every life is heading. Nearby, “fascinating” Plexiglas sculptures use mirrors and repetition to suggest the possibility of escape from finite existence. Clear across the country, a simultaneous show in Santa Monica, Calif., is featuring the body prints Denes made in 1970–71. For that series, she coated her own breasts and her former husband’s penis with fingerprint ink, “using them as stamps” to create images that resemble globes or forests. Too easy a provocation? Hanging nearby are Denes’s detailed, hand-drawn map projections, which reimagine what Earth would look like if it were shaped like a pyramid, or a snail’s shell, or a hot dog.
Denes remains best known for “seminal” Land Art pieces, said Kara Rooney in The Brooklyn Rail. She is “arguably the pioneer” of eco-conscious work that incorporates actual life cycles. For Wheatfield—A Confrontation (1982), she turned a $4.5 billion piece of property near New York’s World Trade Center into a wheatfield, from which was harvested some 1,000 pounds of grain. “A comment on misplaced priorities even then,” the piece was also “a stunning visual statement,” said Gabrielle Selz in HuffingtonPost.com. Another work that’s documented here, Tree Mountain (1992–96), features 11,000 trees planted in an intricate pattern on and around a man-made peak in Finland. It’s a work whose life span is unknown, from an artist who “doesn’t allow boundaries to be finite.” Her sculptures “move beyond the concrete, to a place of open-ended free reign.”