Maya Lin – Systematic Landscapes

Published in the Northside San Francisco Newspaper in Nov. 2008

Through mid-January 2009, the de Young Museum will exhibit new sculptures by the celebrated artist, Maya Lin.

Maya Lin is a sculptor associated with contemporary art traditions relating to minimalism and nature. She received international acclaim when she won a public competition for her design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington at the age of 21. With the names of 58,195 dead soldiers etched in stone, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial’s testament of sacrifice initially drew such emotionally charged reactions that Lin’s name was not even mentioned at the 1982 opening ceremony. This stark, black v-shaped monument was at first controversial but has become one of the most beloved public tourist destinations in America.

Lin went on to produce other public monuments such as the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. Similarly, this work features a round slab of black granite that presents the names of fallen Americans. Carved out from the center in straight lines like petals on a flower, forty names appear including descriptions of their deaths. These are names of just some of the people who died in the struggle for equality and integration for African-Americans between the years of 1954 to 1968. Deliberately chosen, these years represent the U. S. Supreme Court ruling that declared racial segregation in schools unlawful (1954), to the year that Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated (1968).

Smaller, more whimsical installations reveal her diverse style; works like “Ecliptic” completed in 2001 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “Ecliptic” is a functional skating rink featuring 166 fiber-optic lights embedded under the structure’s floor that shine at night, depicting the constellation in the sky over Michigan as they appeared on January 1, 2000.

Location and site specific geography are also themes in Lin’s installations. “Ten Degrees North” was commissioned for the Rockefeller Foundation’s headquarters. A table made from stone and water representing earth, Lin depicts the world from this specific perspective. Lin is currently working on pending outdoor installation projects in the state of Washington.

Born in Ohio in 1959, Maya Lin draws her influences from varied sources such as Japanese gardens, Hopewell Indian earthen mounds and from earthworks artists such as Robert Smithson, creator of the “Spiral Jetty”. Less concerned with objects, Lin’s sculpture focuses on spatial associations that create an experience echoing the natural world.

The de Young exhibit focuses on Lin’s newer works that showcase her ability to synthesize sculpture and natural environments. “Systematic Landscapes” features Lin’s sculptural environments of the last few years that communicate harmony in spatial relationships and nature. Lin intentionally creates ambiguity between the works she creates and the gallery space in order to create cohesiveness between art and the viewer.

A recipient of many awards and honors, Lin was elected to The American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2005. Lin has taken her love of environments to the world of conservation and biodiversity activism. She has served as an advisor on sustainable energy use, and is an advocate for natural resource preservation with the Yellowstone Foundation.

In her activism and in the gentle beauty of her art, Maya Lin’s vision illuminates what is sometimes forgotten, that is, human relationships and their impact on the natural world.

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