Installation view: Agnes Denes: Absolutes and Intermediates, The Shed, New York,
October 9, 2019 – March 22, 2020. Photo: Dan Bradica. Courtesy The Shed.

In June of 2018, Honolulu Museum of Art was invited to participate in a survey exhibition of American artist Agnes Denes (born Hungary, 1931) through the loan of a drawing from our collection. HoMA’s drawing, Probability Pyramid Study for Crystal Pyramid (1976), was to be an important component of the exhibition at The Shed, New York, as the newly opened multi-arts center was commissioning a sculpture based on the drawing. 

Denes’ conceptually-focused works push the boundaries of art, architecture, and technology, with an encompassing theme of environmentalism. Most noted for her ecologically-inspired work in Finland (Tree Mountain–A Living Time Capsule, 11,000 Trees, 11,000 People, 400 Years, 1992-96) and her wheat field demonstration in the heart of New York City (Wheatfield–A Confrontation, 1982), Denes produced many large-scale works combining elements of design and science in the name of climate-change activism, long before the phrase became mainstream.


Agnes Denes (American, born Hungary 1938), Probability Pyramid Study for Crystal Pyramid, 1976, Pencil on vellum, Copyright Agnes Denes, Collection of the Honolulu Museum of Art, Gift of American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, 1986 (19547)

Completed in 2019, the commissioned sculpture, Model for Probability Pyramid—Study for Crystal Pyramid, is constructed of 6,000 3-D printed bricks made from compostable, corn-based material, in the form of a gently sloping pyramid. Within the exhibition space, HoMA’s drawing is positioned in close proximity to the sculpture so that visitors understand the connection between Denes’ drawn plan and her realized sculpture, according to the exhibition curator. It reaches 17 feet and is illuminated from within, creating an ethereal presence in the galleries. 

Denes has been fascinated by the form of the pyramid throughout her long career, and has explored the form through drawing, sculpture, and earthworks. HoMA’s piece is one of a series the artist made of different iterations of this universally recognized form,” says Katherine Love, Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art at HoMA. “The drawing also serves as a plan for the construction of a pyramid and includes the following notation by the artist: ‘Crystal pyramid = 50 x 50 meters, 160,000 glass blocks.’”

Love explains, “Popular understanding of pyramids goes back to the architectural wonders of ancient Egypt, where they were built as monuments and burial chambers for the pharaohs. As such, the shape evokes a strong spiritual sensibility, and, when brought into the present day, not only expresses a connection to the past, but also hope and possibility for the future.”

The exhibition Agnes Denes: Absolutes and Intermediates is on view through March 22, 2020 at The Shed, New York.