Thirty years ago, Maya Lin’s haunting Vietnam Veterans Memorial opened on the Mall and rewrote the rules of memorial design practically overnight. Then she seemed to vanish from the public eye. She was 23, and she had already created a new visual language for mourning. What was there left to do? Turns out she has been quietly prolific ever since, lending the same sense of meditative dignity to another victim of human violence: the environment.
Maya Lin, a new show at the Heinz Architectural Center in Pittsburgh, celebrates the artist’s environmental oeuvre, revealing through 41 sculptures and drawings, how “Lin’s diverse work achieves a balance between nature, science, and art by observing natural phenomena and imaginatively representing them as physical objects.” The spare gestures that defined and empowered the Vietnam memorial are revisited here. There are particleboard blocks that reflect a pass in the Rocky Mountains, jagged casts of recycled molten silver on the wall that trace the flow of famous waterways, and layers of sculpted birch plywood that follow the three-dimensional contours of the Caspian and Red seas.
The goal is to encourage us to contemplate the natural world and, more pointedly, to goad us into giving a damn. A winding vein of silver that represents the embattled Colorado River isn’t just a beautiful art object, it’s a rallying cry: Defend the earth, or one day way too soon, all that will be left of these landscapes will be the art they inspired–accidental memorials to another mindless slaughter.
Maya Lin stays open until May 13. More details here.
[Images courtesy of the Heinz Architectural Center]