August 8, 2013 at 4:34 pm

A Wheat Field Grows in Manhattan

A wheat field once grew in Lower Manhattan, covering two acres of landfill with lush, amber waves of grain. At first glance, the photos appear edited, but the field is as real as the New York City skyscrapers behind it. Part of EXPO 1:NEW YORK, a deeply moving module currently at MoMA PS1, Agnes Denes‘ “Wheatfield – a Confrontation: Battery Park Landfill, Downtown Manhattan” (1982), offers a rare glimpse of The Twin Towers and the Statue of Liberty behind a foreground of wheat.



Conceptual artist, Agnes Denes, planted the wheat by hand, in what was then a landfill covering Battery Park. She cleared the debris and leveled the ground. With the help of volunteers, the field was maintained for four months.

According to her website, the field was “cleared of wheat smut, weeded, fertilized and sprayed against mildew fungus, and an irrigation system set up.” 1000 pounds of wheat were harvested and their seeds travelled around the world in “The International Art Show for the End of World Hunger” (1987-90).

Thirty years later, the photographs of “Wheatfield” represent sustenance, wealth, and world trade, and continue to beg Denes’ questions concerning land use, food waste, and hunger.

Placed in today’s context of food politics, environmentally-aware viewers might ask questions about pollution, soil, sustainability or even farm subsidies.  “Wheatfield,” however, is about this and more: how do humans today value their land, their environment, and other human beings?

“Wheatfield,” and other ecological installations that are a part of EXPO 1: NEW YORK, will be at MoMA PS1 until September 2.  Other works include a prototype garden, experiments in communal living, and interactive works that imagine biopolitics of the future.

-Aly Miller