Critics’ Picks

Agnes Denes, The Living Pyramid, 2015, flowers, grass, soil, wood, paint, 30 x 30 x 30'.

Agnes Denes, The Living Pyramid, 2015, flowers, grass, soil, wood, paint, 30 x 30 x 30'.

New York

Agnes Denes

Socrates Sculpture Park
32-01 Vernon Boulevard
May 17–October 31, 2015

An ecological jamboree of life and death, Agnes Denes’s The Living Pyramid, 2015, gently slopes up to thirty feet high from a thirty-square-foot base. Thousands of seeds harvested in May have resulted in various grasses, plants, and wildflowers now brimming from the wooden structure, defying any marshaling of order. Soon the shambolic pyramid with its several tons of dirt and florae will be recycled back into the park’s grounds. Yet it’s not an end to the pyramid’s eternal form, which Denes has incorporated into various drawings and sculptures in her free-spirited, genre-defying output over nearly fifty years (prime examples were exhibited this past spring in her solo show at Leslie Tonkonow Gallery). The archetypal Egyptian edifice is “undeconstructable,” as Derrida might put it: an architectural wonder that evokes the look of something after collapse. Or, as Denes says in the show’s accompanying catalogue, “The pyramid renews itself.”

Her first public commission in New York since Wheatfield—A Confrontation, 1982, an intervention that entailed planting a golden meadow over two acres of a lost version of Battery Park City, the pyramid is also a provocation. It reminds us what public art used to be, what it could mean—environmentally, culturally, and politically. It dupes, bemuses, and antagonizes an East River panorama increasingly speckled with phallic high rises and luxury condos. Long Island City’s mounting upright and uncluttered verticality has nothing on the pyramid’s enduring, viral entropy. Indeed, Denes’s latest piece signals a regenerative living tomb, an anti-monument against what those ubiquitous and inflated erections will ultimately become: mere rubble.