In the summer of 1982, two acres of wheat were planted and harvested by artist Agnes Denes, two blocks from Wall Street and the World Trade Center and facing the Statue of Liberty.
Harvesting a field of wheat on land worth $4.5 billion created a strong paradox. Wheatfield was a symbol, a universal concept; it represented food, energy, commerce, world trade, and economics. It referred to mismanagement, waste, world hunger and ecological concerns. It called attention to our misplaced priorities.
The harvested grain traveled to twenty-eight cities around the world in an exhibition called “The International Art Show for the End of World Hunger”, organized by the Minnesota Museum of Art (1987-90). The seeds were carried away by people who planted them in many parts of the globe.
This was not a guerrilla art project. Artist Agnes Denes was commissioned by the Public Art Fund to create a significant public work for Manhattan and in response, he conceived Wheatfield.
“I decided we had enough public sculptures of men sitting on horses.” Instead, she wanted visitors to feel they weren’t just observing the art but living it; stepping into a dreamscape in which the Statue of Liberty really does seem to poke out of a country field.
Using dirt excavated during the construction of the World Trade Center, Denes chose a landfill as the site for her installation, in what would later become Battery Park City.
To prep the site for her installation, Denes began by removing trash and debris and clearing two acres of landfill for her wheat field.
With the aid of two assistants and a throng of volunteers, two hundred truckloads of dirt were brought in and 285 furrows were dug by hand and cleared of rocks and garbage. The seeds were sown by hand and the furrows covered with soil.
The field was maintained for four months, cleared of wheat smut, weeded, fertilized and sprayed against mildew fungus, and an irrigation system set up. The crop was harvested on August 16 and yielded over 1000 pounds of healthy, golden wheat.
The harvested grain travelled to twenty-eight cities around the world in an exhibition called “The International Art Show for the End of World Hunger”, organized by the Minnesota Museum of Art (1987-90). The seeds were carried away by people who planted them in many parts of the globe.