Wheatfield — A Confrontation, 1982
Original Location: Battery Park City Landfill*
Viewing Location: Robert F. Wagner Jr. Park*

This site is included in LMCC’s Creative Insider’s Guide to Lower Manhattan, sponsored by Launch LM.

In the summer of 1982, Agnes Denes, with the assistance of many volunteers, removed trash from Battery Park Landfill, spread 200 truckloads of topsoil, and planted two acres of wheat for her work WheatfieldA Confrontation (1982). Denes repositioned an expanse of some of the most valuable real estate in the world—she notes that the lot was worth $4.5 billion—as a site for harvesting crops in order to provoke considerations of the confluence of ecological mismanagement, world trade, hunger, and waste. Denes describes her “long-standing concern and need to call attention to our misplaced priorities and deteriorating human values” as inspiring Wheatfield — A Confrontation and its evocation of a more organic relationship to goods and labor.** Two blocks from Wall Street and the former World Trade Center, Wheatfield — A Confrontation was a lush, performative intervention into the periphery of Lower Manhattan; a site of financial speculation, harvesting of capital, and siloed distribution of global resources.

Denes and her daily helpers transformed Battery Park Landfill from an area full of metal, boulders and other detritus into a radiant field of wheat stalks. They flattened the land, laid fertilizer and soil, dug 285 furrows and sowed seeds across the field by hand. They then maintained the crops for four months, putting in an irrigation system and weeding the field. In August, the harvest yielded over 1,000 pounds of grain, some of which was included in the exhibition “The International Art Show for the End of World Hunger” that traveled internationally to twenty-eight cities. Shortly after Wheatfield — A Confrontation, Battery Park Landfill was turned into billion dollar luxury complexes, exemplifying the processes of property development and resource allocation that incited the polemic of Denes’ large-scale intervention into the site in the first place.

Denes visualizes Wheatfield — A Confrontation’s titular notion of confrontation in the photo documentation of the work. Images draw out the contrast between the gleaming wheat stalks in the foreground and the looming Financial District in the background. Though both the wheat stalks and buildings rise into the summer horizon, the organic nature of the wheat is starkly out of place against the Manhattan skyline. The Statue of Liberty and the former World Trade Center are visible in multiple images; symbols of America, globalization, and international finance against which Denes grounds her environmental focus. The metaphorical resonance of Wheatfield — A Confrontation stems from the documentation of Denes’ golden wheat shafts billowing alongside the centers of financial capital—another form of gold—in Manhattan. Indeed, Denes aptly describes the lasting effect of Wheatfield — A Confrontation as, “I think this magnificent metropolis will remember a majestic, amber field: vulnerability and staying power, the power of the paradox.”***

– Alex Fialho

 

*no longer viewable
**Agnes Denes, The Human Argument: The Writing of Agnes Denes, New York: Spring Publications Inc., 2008, p. 162.
***Ibid, p. 164.

 

Photo Caption: Two acres of wheat planted and harvested by the artist on a landfill in Manhattan’s financial district, a block from Wall Street and the World Trade Center, summer 1982.

Commissioned by the Public Art Fund, New York.

 

Photo Credit (in order of appearance):

Agnes Denes
Wheatfield – A Confrontation: Battery Park Landfill, Downtown Manhattan – The Harvest, 1982
© Agnes Denes
Courtesy Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects

Agnes Denes
Wheatfield – A Confrontation: Battery Park Landfill, Downtown Manhattan – With Statue of Liberty Across the Hudson, 1982
© Agnes Denes
Courtesy Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects