This spring, the Corcoran Gallery of Art will present Maya Lin: Systematic Landscapes—a dramatic installation of major new works by this renowned contemporary artist and architect. On view from March 14 through July 12, the exhibitionaddresses contemporary ideas about landscape and geologic phenomena. Lin’s second nationally-traveling exhibition in 10 years, Systematic Landscapes explores how people perceive and experience the landscape in a time of heightened technological influence and environmental awareness.
Lin (b. 1959) came to prominence in 1981 with her design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. and has since achieved a high degree of recognition for a body of work that includes monuments, buildings, earthworks, sculpture and installations. Traversing Lin’s constructed landscapes in this exhibition—moving around, under, and through them—we encounter a world that has been mapped, digitized, analyzed, and then reintroduced by Lin as actual, physical structures. Her work blends a typology of natural forms, from rivers to mountains to seas, with a visual language of scientific analysis represented by grids, models, and maps. In doing so, Lin merges an understanding of the ideal and the real, encouraging an encounter with conceptual, sculptural and architectural modeling.
Systematic Landscapes is centered on a trio of large-scale sculptural installations: 2×4 Landscape (2006), Water Line (2006) and Blue Lake Pass (2006). Each sculpture offers a different means for viewers to engage with and comprehend a schematic representation of landscape forms. In these projects, Lin examines how people’s modern relationships to the land are extended, condensed, distorted and interpreted through new computer technologies. She translates a series of dramatic landscape environments selected for their inspiring beauty and connection to life-supporting habitats into spatial environments where viewers can engage with them in an art gallery setting.
The first and largest of these installations, 2×4 Landscape (2006), is a vast hill or wave built of more than 50,000 fir and hemlock boards, cut at various lengths and set on end. Conjuring images of an earthen mound or an ocean swell, this work presents a model landscape on a grand scale. Shifting between hill and wave, the installation was partly inspired by the Palouse hills of Eastern Washington, an undulating landscape formed by volcanic lava flows. It measures approximately 60 by 20 by 10 feet and suggests a pixelated, digital rendering of an actual form.
Water Line (2006) maps an underwater landmass located in the South Atlantic Ocean, a volcanic island near Antarctica. Conceived as a large-scale “line drawing” in space, it can be walked around and viewed from different angles. To construct this skeletal, topographical model, Lin collaborated with scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute to fabricate a computer rendering of this largely invisible landscape, which Lin then reconfigured into its physical contoured form using wire. Suspended from above, Water Line provides an unexpected view of the natural world.
Blue Lake Pass (2006) models an actual mountain range near the artist’s Colorado home that she has sliced into a grid. The gaps created by this series of nine cubic-foot particle-board sections of recreated terrain provide new passageways through which the visitor can pass.
Other series represented in the exhibition: Bodies of Water Series (Caspian Sea, Red Sea, and Black Sea), 2006; Atlas Landscapes (Rand McNally New International Atlas, Rand McNally Cosmopolitan World Atlas, and The University Atlas), published 1981–1987, altered 2006; Sketch Tablets (Wanås, Kentucky, and Colorado), 2004–2005; Wire Landscape, 2006, and Plaster Relief Landscapes, 2005.
In addition to these installations, Lin has created a new piece specifically for the Corcoran, entitled Pin River–Potomac (2009). Made entirely of straight pins, this topographic representation is based on the Potomac River. Pin River-Potomac links Systematic Landscapes to the mid-Atlantic landscape in a unique way that enhances the viewing experience and resonates with regional visitors. This piece will be installed by students at the Corcoran College of Art + Design.
2 x 4 Landscape is composed of more than fifty thousand vertical two-by-four boards placed in a configuration that was planned carefully in models and drawings. Its shape suggests a natural form such as an earthen mound or an ocean swell. From afar, the truncated and irregular pattern of the two-by-fours suggests a pixilated, digital rendering of an actual form, as if
2 x 4 Landscape were again a scale model in the artist’s studio. The shape is both an imagined landscape and an actual wooden hill at the same time. Depending on one’s viewpoint in the gallery, its appearance changes. It is ten feet tall at its highest point, making it seem monumental in the interior space of a gallery. However, it is a fraction of the size of an actual landscape in the natural world. In planning this work, Maya Lin was inspired by real places, such as the Palouse Hills of eastern Washington and the American Indian burial mounds near her childhood home in Ohio. The work began with the idea of walking up a hill indoors and approaching the ceiling.
ABOUT MAYA LIN
Maya Lin has maintained a careful balance in her career between art and architecture, creating a remarkable body of work that includes large-scale site-specific installations, intimate studio artworks, and architectural works. In her large-scale environmental artworks, she has consistently explored how we experience and relate to the landscape. From her recent works such as Where the Land Meets the Sea (2008, a drawing in space based upon the topology of the San Francisco Bay) Eleven Minute Line (2004, an earthen line 1600 feet long by 12 feet high, traversing a meadow in Sweden) and Flutter (2005, a 20,000 square foot sculpted earthwork commissioned for a federal courthouse in Miami) back to her very first—the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, where she cut open the land and polished its edges to create a history embedded in the earth—she has made works that merge completely with the terrain, blurring the boundaries between two- and three-dimensional space and setting up a systematic ordering of the land that is tied to history, time, and language.
Her studio artwork has been shown in solo museum exhibitions in the US, Italy, Denmark, and Sweden. The exhibition Maya Lin: Systematic Landscapes, which opened at Seattle’s Henry Art Gallery, is the first to translate the scale and coherence of her outdoor installations to the interior space of a museum. It is currently showing at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.
Ms. Lin’s architectural works have been critically acclaimed both nationally and internationally. Her recent architecture includes the Riggio-Lynch Chapel and Langston Hughes Library for the Children’s Defense Fund, an Environmental Learning lab at Manhattanville College, and a private residence in Colorado that was honored as one of Architecture Record’s Record Houses in 2006. Her architecture creates a dialog between the landscape and architecture; she is committed to and advocates sustainable design practice in her works, often using sustainable and reclaimed materials, merging materials and design to establish a singular voice.
Currently Ms. Lin is working on, among others, the design for the Museum of Chinese in America’s new space in lower Manhattan, as well as Storm King Wavefield, an 11 acre earthwork reclamation project at Storm King Art Center, and the Confluence Project, a multi-sited installation that spans the Columbia river system in the Pacific Northwest, intertwining the history of Lewis and Clark with the history of the Native American Tribes that inhabit those regions, but always with a critical eye toward the environmental changes that have rapidly occurred in the region. A committed environmentalist, Lin has consistently focused on environmental issues and concerns- promoting sustainable building design in her architectural works while in her artworks asking us to pay closer attention to the natural world. She is working on what will become the last of her memorials, entitled “What is Missing?”, which will focus on extinct and endangered species and places and will debut at the California Academy of Sciences in September 2009, with a global debut on Earth Day 2010.
Maya Lin received BA from Yale in 1981 and her Master of Architecture from Yale University in 1986, and has maintained a professional studio in New York City since then. Lin is represented by PaceWildenstein Gallery in New York. She currently serves on the Board of Trustees of the Natural Resources Defense Council and is a member of the Yale Corporation. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Presidential Design Award, an AIA Honor Award, the Finn Juhl Prize, and honorary doctorates from among others, Yale, Harvard, Williams College, and Smith College. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 2005 was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. She has been profiled in Time Magazine, The New York Times Magazine and The New Yorker and her architecture and artworks have consistently elicited praise in magazines ranging from Newsweek to Art in America to Architectural Record. In 1996 a documentary about her work, Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision, won the Academy Award for Best Documentary. She lives in New York City with her husband, Daniel Wolf, and their two children.
Maya Lin: Systematic Landscapes is organized by the Henry Art Gallery and curated by former Director Richard Andrews. Major support for this exhibition was provided by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and The Peter Norton Family Foundation. The presentation at the Corcoran is supported by The Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts and Frederick and Jane Knops.