By Minshu Deng
Agnes Denes (b. 1931) is a Hungarian-born, American conceptual artist based in New York. Educated in Sweden and the U.S., she began her artistic career as a painter but ultimately found the medium limiting both physically and conceptually. In transitioning to “philosophically oriented art,” Denes incorporated knowledge from a wide range of disciplines, from the sciences and technology to music and “global issues of survival.” Her artistic objective was and continues to be to explore the mysteries of the human experience.
Denes was one of the first artists to explore the intellectual consequences of ideas through the use of serial imagery. Thus not only are her works of art aesthetically appealing, but they also challenge viewers to think about they see. Pieces are often accompanied by poetic prose explanations that make Denes’ art more intellectually accessible to viewers, as with Pillars of Assumptions:
Pillars of Assumptions, 1971
India ink and charcoal on vellum, 12 x 9”
An excerpt of Denes’ written accompaniment to Pillars (from the Organic Notebooks):
As the last important act before they die, the elders of a town are called upon to recount its history, which is then inscribed onto an impressive monument…the elders believe they are passing down the truth, but the sum of their accounts does not bring us closer to any truth, only further from it…We are ready to believe follow, or worship anything as long as it has some degree of official approval.
Her work in “visual philosophy” explores intellectual concepts through visual art, making it unique in its content, and it has done much to expand and change the world of art. While the subject content covered in Denes’ work is often considered overwhelming in breadth, some attribute this perception to society being unaccustomed to women acting as creators of philosophical systems.
Skilled in drawing, printmaking, photography, and sculptural form, Denes is precise in engineering her work to the needs of her message. To demonstrate mathematical symmetry and beauty found in nature, Denes makes use of these patterns in her work. Pascal’s triangle is one such mathematical phenomenon that Denes translated into visual beauty in her Pascal’s Triangle drawings:
Pascal’s Triangle, Drawing No. 3, 1973-75 (detail)
Ink on orange graph paper, 15” x 15’ 10”
Pascal’s Perfect Probability Pyramid & the People Paradox–The Predicament, 1980 (detail)
India ink on silk vellum, 32 x 43”
Denes’ art is interesting to me because they are both interesting visually and conceptually. In most cases, the forms represented in her artwork are also based on real technology and are designed to be built, a fact that plays into my desire to transform art into something useful and tangible. Other drawings by Agnes Denes that I found to be visually stimulating:
Isometric Systems in Isotropic Space–Map Projections: The Dodecahedron, 1974
Ink on rag paper & mylar, 30 x 24”
Peace Park U.S.A.–Proposal for a twelve-acre park, Hains Point, Washington, D.C., 1989 (detail)
Pencil and ink on tracing vellum
"Agnes Denes." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 25 Feb. 2014. Web. 2 Mar. 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnes_Denes
Denes, Agnes. Agnes Denes. Eds. Jill Hartz and Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art. Ithaca, N.Y.: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, 1992.
All images sourced from “Agnes Denes” (1992).