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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Maya Lin

Maya Lin, environmental artist and architect
When I was a graduate student at Ohio University around 1974, I had the occasion to visit the office of the Dean of the College of Fine Arts (I don't recall the reason). His name was Henry Lin, a Chinese-American ceramicist, also an excellent artist and administrator. The meeting took maybe five minutes. Henry and Julia Lin were the parents of Maya Lin. She would have been about fifteen at the time. In less than seven years, she would be one of the most controversial artists in the whole country as she literally "went to the wall" in defense of her V-shaped, black granite "gash" cut in the grassy parkland near the Capitol Mall in Washington, DC.

Groundswell, 1993, Maya Lin,
Ohio State University
Maya was born in 1959 in Athens, Ohio, about forty miles from where I live. Today she manages her own Architectural firm in New York City. She gave up designing monuments and memorials (as she prefers calling them) in 1989, fearing that, like so many in the performing arts field, she was in danger of being "type cast." However she still sneaks in a few rather monumental environmental sculptures once in a while, such as her 1993 Groundswell (left) at Ohio State University (a three-level garden of crushed green glass) or her 1995 Wave Field (below, right), an earth sculpture on the campus of the University of Michigan.

Wave Field, 1995, Maya Lin,
University of Michigan
Other works include the design of private residences, the renovation of two floors of a New York building into a new Museum of African Art, a factory in Brooklyn for the making of paper from recycled materials, and a downtown rejuvenation project for Grand Rapids, Michigan. For Yale University, she designed a sculptured table from green granite symbolizing the growing number of women who have passed through the institutions gates since it became coeducational in 1969. In Charlotte, North Carolina, she created TOPO (1991), sculpted topiary figures down the median strip leading to the Coliseum.  She's also created a 38-foot elliptical clock Eclipsed Time in New York's Penn Station as well as work for the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Vietnam Memorial, 1980-82, Maya Lin, Washington, DC. Only from the air can the
full scope of Lin's work be appreciated, yet it is most impressive up close and personal.
Maya was a brilliant child. As a child, she grew up among the art studio classrooms of the college her father directed. Gifted both in art and mathematics, she taught herself COBOL and FORTRAN (computer languages) as a teenager; and as a student at Yale, she was torn between studying sculpture or Architecture (the school wouldn't let her do both). She chose architecture though she confesses to having sneaked into a few sculpture classes on the sly. All through her career, the public has suffered the same difficulty in trying to decide if she's an architect or a sculptor. In her own mind, she's long since merged the two. In her much tormented Vietnam Memorial (above), she sought not to create a monument but a memorial environment. However her Civil Rights Memorial (bottom) at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, is, indeed, a monument, words etched into solid black granite, overflowing with a thin veil of water which the viewer is invited to touch. Etched into the black granite wall are the words of Dr. King: "The seekers of equality will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream."

Civil Rights Memorial, 1988-89, Maya Lin, Southern Poverty Law Center,
Montgomery, Alabama

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