Maya Lin (1959- )
Knoll Products: Stones, Longitude chaise, side chair and Equator
Frequently cited as a benchmark of modern cross-national design, Maya Lin’s work draws influence from Japanese gardens, American Indian earthen mounds, her parents and her architectural design training at Yale University. While studying there as a senior, Lin won a nationwide contest for her controversial design of the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial.
Her career has been marked by her memorials, public spaces and keen sense of simple, elegant beauty. These elements are gracefully displayed in her work for Knoll, which includes outdoor seating stones, a chaise lounge and side chair. In 2003, Maya Lin won the Finn Juhl award for good design.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial (original design submission by Maya Lin)
In 1981, at age 21 and while still an undergraduate, Lin won a public design competition for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, beating out 1,441 other competition submissions. The black cut-stone masonry wall, with the names of 58,261 fallen soldiers carved into its face, was completed in late October 1982 and dedicated on November 13, 1982. The wall is granite and V-shaped, with one side pointing to the Lincoln Memorial and the other to the Washington Monument.
Lin’s conception was to create an opening or a wound in the earth to symbolize the gravity of the loss of the soldiers. The design was initially controversial for what was an unconventional and non-traditional design for a war memorial. Opponents of the design also voiced objection because of Lin’s Asian heritage. However, the memorial has since become an important pilgrimage site for relatives and friends of the American military casualties in Vietnam, and personal tokens and mementos are left at the wall daily in their memory.
Lin believes that if the competition had not been “blind”, with designs submitted by number instead of name, she “never would have won”. She received harassment after her ethnicity was revealed. Prominent businessman and later 3rd party presidential candidate Ross Perot was known to have called her an “egg roll” after it was revealed that she was Asian. Lin defended her design in front of the United States Congress, and eventually a compromise was reached. A bronze statue of a group of soldiers and an American flag was placed off to one side of the monument as a result.
Work after the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Sculpture of 2×4 on display at the De Young Museum in San Francisco, 2009
Lin, who now owns and operates Maya Lin Studio in New York City, went on to design other structures, including the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama (1989) and the Wave Field at the University of Michigan (1995).
In 1994, she was the subject of the Academy Award-winning documentary Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision. The title comes from an address she gave at Yale in which she spoke of the monument design process. Talking about the origin of her work, Lin says “My work originates from a simple desire to make people aware of their surroundings and this can include not just the physical but the psychological world that we live in”.
According to Maya Lin, art should be an act of every individual willing to say something new and that which is not quite familiar. When a project comes her way, she tries to “understand the definition (of the site) in a verbal before finding the form. To understand what a piece is conceptually and what its nature should be even before visiting the site”.
In 1999, Lin exhibited Il Cortile Mare (1998), furniture design, maquettes and photos of works at the American Academy in Rome, Italy.
In 2000, Lin re-emerged in the public life with a book entitled Boundaries. Also in 2000, she agreed to act as the artist and architect for the Confluence Project, a series of outdoor installations at historical points along the Columbia River and Snake River in the states of Washington and Oregon. This is the largest and longest project that she has undertaken so far.
In 2002, Lin was elected Alumni Fellow of the Yale Corporation, the governing body of Yale University (upon whose campus sits another of Lin’s designs: the Women’s Table – designed to commemorate the role of women at Yale University), in an unusually public contest. Her opponent was W. David Lee, a local New Haven minister and graduate of the Yale Divinity School who was running on a platform to build ties to the community with the support of Yale’s unionized employees. Lin was supported by Yale’s President Richard Levin, other members of the Yale Corporation, and was the officially endorsed candidate of the Association of Yale Alumni.
In 2003, Lin served on the selection jury of the World Trade Center Site Memorial Competition. A trend toward minimalism and abstraction was noted among the entrants, finalists, and current World Trade Center Memorial.
In 2005, Lin was elected to The American Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York.
Lin was commissioned by Ohio University to design what is known as punch card park in that institution’s Bicentennial Park, a landscape literally designed to resemble a punched card, supposedly based on Lin’s memories of their early use in universities. The park is a large open space with rectangular mounds and voids on the ground.photo At first the park was criticized for being relatively uninviting (with punched card pits promoting mosquito infestation and preventing safe active recreation) and lacked trees or structures to shade students from the sun. In addition, from the ground level, it is difficult to tell what the park is supposed to look like, though from an aerial view it does resemble a punched card. Although the university since planted trees around the park’s perimeter in an attempt to make it a more popular place for students to gather, this has been unsuccessful.
In 2007, Lin installed “Above and Below”, an outdoor sculpture at the Indianapolis Museum of Art in Indiana. “Above and Below” is made of aluminum tubing that has been electrolytically colored during the anodization process.
In 2008, Lin completed a 30-ton sculpture called “2 x 4 Landscape,” which is on exhibit at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco, California. Her current projects include an installation at the Storm King Art Center.
In 2009, Lin completed “Silver River,” her first work of art in Las Vegas, which is part of a public fine art collection at MGM Mirage’s CityCenter, which opened December 2009. Lin created an 84-foot (26 m) cast of the Colorado River made entirely of reclaimed silver. With the sculpture, Lin wanted to make a statement about water conservation and the importance of the Colorado River to Nevada in terms of energy and water. The sculpture is displayed behind the front desk of the Aria Resort & Casino.
In 2009, Maya Lin was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama.
Maya Lin is represented by The Pace Gallery in New York.