Art often calls us to question. We are invited or even compelled to examine ideas and conceptions about ourselves, our culture, our values, our perceptions of beauty. Artist and visionary Agnes Denes calls us to this examining place more substantively, perhaps, than any other artist living today.
Work by Agnes Denes is on view at Herron.
Denes, whose retrospective Projects for Public Spaces is on view at Herron School of Art, is a brilliant communicator of problems as well as their potential solutions. This is what sets her work apart from a broad spectrum of artists whose ideas touch on values and the problems we face collectively and individually. Denes not only recalls the problem and its genesis, but she envisions its resolution, even if its realization is itself a paradox. The advancement of technology, she suggests, is at once the solution and the original problem. Denes is known the world over for her gallery art as well as large-scale public installations and environmental sculptures. Her work as a whole reflects on the state of the planet’s ecological degradation and poses the question of its ailing state in juxtaposition to our individual unconsciousness. The state of our inner reflectiveness and caring for the planet go hand in hand, she suggests; and her projects — both realized and still conceptual — reflect this worldview. The Herron exhibition, which visits Indianapolis by way of its origins at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Penn., includes drawings, photographs and texts of projects ranging from a forest of 11,000 trees planted by 11,000 people to a ghost ship. In one of Denes’ most complex but poignant pieces, “Pascal’s Perfect Probability Pyramid & The People Paradox — the Predicament,” a lithograph of tiny stylized human forms is shaped into a pyramid. The artist thus conveys what it means to stand alone but be tied to a larger structure. “They cannot escape the structure,” Denes writes, “yet seem to be fooled by illusions of freedom.” Denes conceived the piece as “a society of visual mathematics in which they are but patterns and processes, number components of a mathematical system who believe they are unique entities … They are emotionally unstable yet manage complicated technological miracles and do not seem to realize that their great advances have interfered with their own evolution.” This, perhaps, is at the crux of Denes’ brilliance. The artist recognizes that the momentum of mass energy is often carried away without consciousness of its ultimate impact, which is identical to the individual experience. Indeed, we are all connected, and we are each a reflection of the whole — and a component in its healing. Denes’ solution, inferred in so much of her art, is to recognize through hindsight the effects of our efforts and to pursue a different path that sustains life rather than thwarts it. Agnes Denes: Projects for Public Spaces, A Retrospective is on view through Sept. 27 at Herron Gallery, 1701 N. Pennsylvania St. Call 920-2420 or visit www.herron.iupui.edu for hours and information.