What is Environmental Art?

Artists such as Agnes Denes, Robert Smithson, Edith Meusnier, Robert Morris, Michael Heizer and many others are committed to raising the public's awareness of our natural environments through their work. They seek to investigate the complex relationship between humans and nature while posing some fundamental questions:


  • How can art be actively engaged with nature?
  • What are some of the ways artists can work in harmony with nature rather than disrupting it?
  • How does environmental art force us to reimagine art exhibition spaces?


Ultimately, the term environmental art first began traction in the early 90's when artists started to question the spaces we occupy, drawing attention to key ecological issues such as pollution, climate change and the direct impacts humans have on nature. Environmental art serves as an umbrella term to describe ecological art, land art, earthwork and others. Many artists use such terms interchangeably to describe different forms of art that are directly related to nature.

Considered to be a pioneer environmental artist, Agnes Denes is known for her activism. Her work focuses on the impending fear of nature's decay yet it stays hopeful for a better future. Without a doubt, her most famous work is "Wheatfield - a Confrontation" from 1982. Denes spent six months creating this work, which consisted of a two-acre golden wheat field in a landfill in Lower Manhattan. The ground was prepared with soil, planted and eventually harvested. It lasted three months.

At the time, that section of Manhattan was barren and entirely different - today is the home of Battery Park neighborhood. The specific location of the site also played a significant role in the artwork itself. The wheat field sat right in front of the Twin Towers, a major symbol of American capitalist greed and power. As viewers stood in the middle of the field , they were able to see both the towers and the Statue of Liberty. It felt as if Kansas had landed in the middle of New York City - the air was different.

As a transitory and impermanent work, the views of the field survived only in photographs and people's memory. Once harvested, the wheat traveled to over 20 cities in the world as part of the exhibition "The International Art Show for The End of World Hunger".

Images: Agnes Denes and Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects