Maya Lin: the intersection of art, architecture and the environment


Artist Maya Lin described her approach to art, architecture and design, and her desire to get people thinking about climate change at the Frey 2022 conference on April 12 at the FedEx Global Education Center in Carolina.

The Frey Foundation Distinguished Visiting Professorship is one of the highest honors bestowed by the College of Arts and Sciences on distinguished public figures. Established in 1989, this free public lecture brings renowned speakers from a variety of fields, including government, public policy, international affairs, arts and sciences, to campus.

Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz introduced Lin, best known for winning the 1982 design competition for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC while still a student at Yale. Its simple design of black granite panels, rising from the ground in a V-shape, contains the name of every American serviceman who died during the war. Since then, she has designed other significant monuments, including the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama.

Lin’s works have been featured in solo exhibitions in museums and galleries around the world, with works in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among others. She is a recipient of the National Medal of Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Opening a 50-minute photographic tour of some of her creations, Lin said she views her work as a tripod: art, architecture, and memorials. “I will always talk about the three,” she said.

Bodies of water and waveforms have often occupied it, resulting in museum pieces and site-specific installations, including three ‘wave fields’.

Lin talked about how she built the wave fields and how each one got bigger. For the first of these, a project at the University of Michigan, she was inspired by a photo of “a natural repeating stream” called a Stokes wave, she said. “I saw this and I was like, ‘I have to do an article about this,'” she said. The result became “The Wave Field”, a 10,000 square foot patch of grassy waves, each 3 to 5 feet high. “You could… cuddle up in a wave and read a book until the sprinklers appear,” she said.

Even after that project ended in 1995, she remained preoccupied with form. “As an artist, I work in series,” she said. Maybe it’s because I vary a bit in my medium. … An iteration, a series, allows me to explore an idea and change scale, change subtle ideas about it, and then move on because I’m very site-specific. I am also linked to the site.

For a commission in 2005 before the US Federal Courthouse in Miami, she wanted to continue experimenting with waveforms. “They were very concerned about snipers,” she said, so she created the waves in the resulting work, called “Flutter,” just about 2 feet tall, to evoke “how water, before it reaches the shore, creates ripples in the sand.” Its waves are smaller, but its footprint is triple the size of the Michigan coin.

His wave work culminated in 2009 with the final work in the series, which covers four acres of a former gravel pit at the Storm King Art Center in New Windsor, New York. Storm King Wavefield waves are 12 to 18 feet high. “The idea was what would happen if I could create a wave field where you get lost, in a way,” she said. “Because in the end, I am very in situ, and I had to create a dialogue with the distant hills. Everything else looked miniature and didn’t really relate to the landscape it was in.

His fields in three waves offer insight into his artistic process. She interviews many people, often having to assure them that their answers may not end up in the artwork. “I call it a fishing expedition,” she said. “Because the site is not just a physical site. It is a cultural context. So what happens in buildings? Who is here? Who will use it? And how can I reflect that in the work itself? »

Other aspects of nature and the environment also inspired Lin. She made a series of “Earth drawings” in Sweden, Kentucky and New Jersey, among other places. In 2021, she installed 49 dead Atlantic cedars in Manhattan’s Madison Square Park for a piece called “Ghost Forest” intended to highlight the effects of climate change.

She’s been working on what she says is her final memorial, “What’s Missing?”, a cross-platform global memorial for the planet. Located in selected scholarly institutions, online and in a book, the book draws attention to the crisis surrounding biodiversity and habitat loss.

“Maybe as an artist, I can get you to rethink the issue or frame it in a way that you don’t expect,” she said.

The Frey Foundation was established in 1974 by Edward J. and Frances Frey of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Their son, alumnus David Gardner Frey ’64, ’67 (JD), is the past president of the foundation and a longtime supporter of the College of Arts & Sciences.

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