Skip to ContentSkip to Footer
USE AMOCT15 AT CHECKOUT TO GET 15% OFF
USE AMOCT15 AT CHECKOUT TO GET 15% OFF

Maya Lin’s Wave Fields: Changing Landscapes and Perspectives

Artist, architectural designer and activist Maya Lin easily exists between states. Over the course of her formidable forty year career, Lin’s pieces have taken form as sinuous silver sculptures inspired by the topography of rivers across the US, swelling hills rising to fifteen feet to mimic the motion of the ocean, and dangerously seductive groundswell made from shattered tempered glass. Lin’s work makes dynamic events in nature pause for our consideration.

Share

w

Maya Lin, Storm King Wavefield, 2009 | Storm King Art Centre, New Windsor, NY, 410’ x 490’ x 15’ tall, 240,000 square feet | Photo Jerry Thompson

The daughter of Chinese immigrants, artist Maya Lin grew up in rural Athens, Ohio, where her parents served on the faculty of Ohio University. Her mother was also a poet, her father a ceramicist, and as a child her hours were often spent whiling away in his studio. Years later while studying at Yale University, her professors would tell her that she could either be an architect or an artist, but not both. Lin’s bilateral and groundbreaking career proves otherwise.
Lin has created works that have memorialized some of the most critical issues of our time: the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, women’s rights, Native American rights, and most often, the need to protect and restore our natural environment. We find quiet yet compelling persuasion in her sculptures - the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama (1989) and the Yale Women’s Table (1993) both mark the passing of time through water on stone that appears to be still until you touch the surface. Water has been a repeat source of inspiration for Lin, her piece Dew Point  (2009), a collection of mold-shaped glass resembling enlarged droplets scattered on the ground, nudges us to enjoy their dewy, forever restful condition.

w

Maya Lin, A Fold in the Field, 2013 | Gibbs Farm, Kaipara Harbour, New Zealand | Photo Dan Chappell
 

s

Maya Lin, Groundswell, 1993 | Photo Rose Marie Cromwell
 

Storm King Wavefield (2009), the largest in a series of wave fields by Lin interprets the movement of water, embedded in the ground. Stretching across 240,000 square feet of land in upstate New York—set against a backdrop of the Hudson Highlands and the Schunnemunk Mountain—undulating waves of grassy terrain invite us to lie or leap upon it, the sun’s shadows casting dark valleys into the landscape. With a birds eye view, we witness the magnificent scale of the work, with seven nearly 400-foot long waves swelling ten to fifteen feet high, conjuring an inescapable feeling of being lost at sea.
Lin chose the site as an environment reclamation project, applying sustainable practices to rework the formal gravel pit untouched since Storm King’s founding in 1960. By leveraging the existing gravel, adding topsoil, and introducing a natural drainage system along with low-impact grasses, Wavefield lives on as an evolving, organic work. 
A committed environmentalist, Lin unveiled ‘What is Missing?’ in 2012, an ongoing project presenting the ecological history of the planet—past, present, and future— and documenting the places and species that will most likely disappear within our lifetime if not protected. Taking a multi-site, multi-form approach, the memorial exists as permanent sculptures, temporary media exhibits, and a website, whatismissing.org, unshackling the idea of a memorial from static monuments and imagining a platform for global dialogue. We are forced to feel a sense of absence, to notice things we did not realize we had already lost.
 

w

Maya Lin, Groundswell, 1993 | Wexner Centre for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio | Photo Rose Marie Cromwell
 

w

Maya Lin, Silver Hudson, 2011 | Photo Kerry Ryan McFate, courtesy Pace Gallery
 

Lin first earned national fame at 21 years old while at university when she submitted the winning design to build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. In the Academy Award-winning documentary about her creation, ‘Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision’, we witness the spectrum of overwhelming emotions elicited by the lucid design. Dominating the 8,100 m2 site on the Washington Mall, D.C., the black granite sculpture serves as a mirror between two worlds: one of the dead and one of the living. Lin has described the minimalist monument “not as an object placed into the Earth but as a cut in the Earth that has then been polished, like a geode”. 
Since the beginning, Lin’s works have pushed us to reconnect with nature and question our role within it. What happens when an animal becomes extinct, the forest is forever changed, or we are no longer here? How do we grieve in anticipation of a natural event?
Lin’s sculptures act as triggers that create a sense of collective reckoning. Her latest piece promises to be no less poignant, nor powerful. Ghost Forest, opening in Madison Square Park, New York, is made up of 49 Atlantic white cedar trees, which hold imposing ground at around 40 feet, a metaphor for the destructive impact of the global climate crisis. As she has for decades, without the need to show us a burning forest, Lin ignites a fire.




 

w

Maya Lin, Silver Hudson, 2011 | Recycled Silver, 81” x 45” x 3/8” | Photo Kerry Ryan McFate, courtesy Pace Gallery
 

a

Maya Lin, Blue Lake Pass, 2006 | Duraflake particleboard | Photo Colleen Chartier
 

s

Maya Lin, 2x4 Landscape, 2006 | FSC Wood 10’ x 52’ x 36’ | Photo Colleen Chartier
 

w

Maya Lin, Latitude New York City, 2013 | Vermont Danby marble | Photo Kerry Ryan McFate, courtesy Pace Gallery
 

w

Maya Lin, Latitude New York City, 2013 | Vermont Danby marble | Photo Kerry Ryan McFate, courtesy Pace Gallery
 

Text: Kat Chan

Images: © Courtesy of Maya Lin Studio