A Bill Moyers Special - Becoming American: The Chinese Experience

Print this page


Maya Lin Bio

"One of the rare few who have managed to forge a path in both art and architecture, Maya Lin is at once sculptor, architect, designer, craftsman, and thinker," says art critic Michael Brenson. Since she founded her own studio in 1986, Maya Lin has been "proposing ways of thinking and imagining that resist categories, genres, and borders," says Brenson. Her works have touched people in a way unprecedented in contemporary art and architecture.

Whether creating public or private art or architectural works, Maya Lin creates places of refuge and contemplation in highly public places. She has redefined the idea of a monument, addressing the critical social and political issues of our time — war, racism and gender equality — with her highly acclaimed works: the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial (Washington, DC 1982), the Civil Rights Memorial (Montgomery, AL 1989), and The Women's Table (Yale University, New Haven, CT 1993). Their intimate human scale invites visitors to touch, feel, respond, and contemplate.

Throughout Maya Lin's body of work is a profound respect and love for the natural environment. Her interest in landscape has led to works influenced by natural topographies and geologic phenomena, finding inspiration from rock formations, ice floes, water patterns, solar eclipses, and aerial views of the earth. Influenced by the Earth Artists of the 60's and 70's, Lin brings a very contemporary perspective to the theme of landscape by merging the rational order of high technology with the transcendental and irregular forms of nature.

Referring to aerial and satellite photography, topographic mapping and the principles of fluid dynamics, Lin molded a ten thousand square foot field of grass into a land sculpture entitled The Wave Field (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1995). For Groundswell (Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH, 1993), Lin studied Zen gardens and the earthen mounds of Native Americans creating a site-specific sculpture by shaping 43 tons of recycled broken car glass. Solar eclipses were the influence for Eclipsed Time, an aluminum, steel and glass clock on the ceiling of New York's Pennsylvania Station (1994). Lit from above by an array of fiber optic panels, a moving aluminum disk passes back and forth above the glass disk creating a shadow that marks the time of day. Lin's idea was to reflect the notion of time naturally.

Most recently, Lin completed a 3.5 acre park, entitled Ecliptic, in downtown Grand Rapids, MI, based on water in its three physical states: solid, liquid and vapor. At the heart of the park is an amphitheater skating rink with curved seating terraces suggesting concentric rings formed by a drop of water or the elliptical orbit of planets. Embedded into the concrete floor of the amphitheater are fiber optic lights in the configuration of the night's sky on January 1, 2000, marking the passage into the new millennium. In her recent project, the character of a hill, under glass, Lin questions the relationship between inside and outside. She created a curved, wooden floor within a winter garden that she designed for the American Express Financial Advisors In Minneapolis, MN. Lin brought the natural curves of the landscape outside and native trees into the interior of the building and also created a water wall that faces the street. When allowed to freeze in the winter, the wall provides a view of the city outside through a sheet of ice.

Represented by Gagosian Gallery, Maya Lin's artwork has been exhibited all over the country and internationally. Maya Lin: Public/Private (Wexner Center for the Arts, 1993) drew attention to Lin's talent in the two distinct domains of art and architecture. Maya Lin, at the American Academy in Rome (1998-1999), where she was the William A. Bernoudy Resident in Architecture, was the first major exhibition of Lin's work outside the United States. Originated by the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, the exhibition Topologies featured the first of Lin's sculptures to be designed not for a specific site, but to travel to five additional museums in the United States (1998 - 1999). And recently Lin was one of four artists commissioned for Illusions of Eden: Visions of the American Heartland, an exhibition that toured through Europe and America.

Her architectural works include the Aveda Headquarters in downtown Manhattan (2002); the Langston Hughes Library for the Children's Defense Fund, (Clinton, Tennessee; 1999); a private residence in New York City based on a Chinese puzzle box (1999); and the Museum for African Art also in New York (1993). These projects have won numerous awards, including the Award in Architecture from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Lin's strong concern for environmental issues has lead her to use recycled, living, or natural materials in her work and to focus on sustainable and site-sensitive design solutions. A devoted environmentalist, Lin introduced a proposal for The Extinction Project, a memorial about biodiversity, the extinction of species, and the relationship of man to the environment, in her book Boundaries (Simon and Schuster 2000).

Lin is currently designing a site-specific artwork for the Yellowstone National Park at the site of Old Faithful that will be linked to her Extinction Project; a sensory garden for the University of California, Irvine; an earthwork for a new United States Courthouse building in Miami, Florida; a bakery for the Greyston Foundation in Yonkers, New York; a chapel on Haley Farm next to the Langston Hughes Library for the Children's Defense Fund in Clinton, Tennessee; and several private residences around the country.

Lin was born and raised in Athens, Ohio (1959), where her parents, both professors at Ohio University, emigrated from China just before the Communist takeover in 1949. She sees her Asian-American heritage as the source of her refusal to separate East/West influences, reason and intuition, and left and right brain. Her life and work were detailed in the Academy Award-winning documentary film, Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision (1995). She lives in New York City with her husband, Daniel Wolf, and two children