Maya Lin: Systematic Landscapes
September 7 - December 30, 2007
To kick off our fifth season, the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis is thrilled to present a major exhibition by world-renowned artist Maya Lin. In 1981, Lin's Vietnam Veterans Memorial dramatically changed the language and form of commemorative sculpture by infusing minimalist design with the emotional charge of memory. Since then, Lin has been justly celebrated for a remarkable body of work that includes public monuments, earthworks, sculpture, architecture, and landscape design. The breadth and diversity of her work resists categorization, as her creative output ranges freely across the boundaries of art, architecture, and design.
Systematic Landscapes centers around three large-scale installations, each of which puts the viewer into a distinctive relationship with the scale and shape of the land. Lin's pieces are massive and invite the visitor literally to become a part of her invented and real landscapes walking under, upon, and through them. 2x4 Landscape is a 10-foot tall wave from one angle and a hill from another. Made of 65,000 boards set on irregular end, it is a familiar fragment of landscape that can be walked around and climbed. Water Line, a floating wire-frame topographic drawing, can either be walked under or viewed from above. The piece appears abstract but is instantly recognizable as a model of the ocean floor the rough roll of bedrock that bears the weight of the sea. Flung into the air and frozen, it's an emblem of our foreign familiar, the wet floor blackened and dry in the gallery and rising up to haunt us. Blue Lake Pass, a 3D translation of a mountain range, is made of layers of particle board that have been segmented into a grid and then pulled apart. Visitors experience the piece from within as they walk through the landscape strata, much like a river carves its course through the rocks over millions of years.
Lin explains that these pieces are meant to challenge the means by which we perceive landscapes in the 21st century the era of digital photos and satellite maps on the internet. You just want to translate what you see, Lin said. I am no different from a 19th-century landscape artist. She is different, of course, as she admits, since she is not actually looking at the landscape and reproducing what she sees, but using large amounts of scientific data to produce a vision of what she might see. Part of her vision is to see what has changed in our global environment and show it to those viewing her work. We, as a species, never understood how we have changed the environment, Lin said.
In addition to these three monumental installations, the exhibition also features several other very interesting works by Lin. The Atlas Landscapes series will appeal to serious map aficionados. In these, the artist has opened a bound atlas, then carefully carved it down, page by page, to create 3-D topographic water features that do not actually exist. These landscapes are wonderfully fanciful, and the urge to reach out and touch them is nearly irresistible. Lin's Bodies of Water series is equally astounding. There are three pieces depicting the Caspian, Red, and Black seas, all constructed from layers of Baltic birch plywood. They are bathymetric models, which is to say they are the shapes you would get if you froze the waters in those seas and then popped out the ice chunk to look at it.
The Contemporary is also pleased to commission and debut in St. Louis a new sculptural work by Maya Lin based upon the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. This new work, Pin River, is based upon Lin's deep interest in the role that our river systems have played and continue to play in our nation's history. Depicting a linear view of the shape of the rivers, Pin River is comprised of tens of thousands of straight pins pushed into the wall to create a sinuous flow of silver that is a shadow image of the place where the two rivers converge in St. Louis. We are honored to work with the artist to present this new work and further enhance the resonance of her exhibition with our local community.