As the Heinz Architectural Center focuses increasingly on landscape design, few figures could be more suitable to mark the change than Maya Lin.
She ascended to fame in the early 1980s with her design for the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. Instead of a chalky temple or freeze-dried hero on a pedestal, she gave us an austere and geometric incursion into the landscape, much to the ire of only a few notably shortsighted critics.
But the poetry of an object gradually descending into the ground, symbolically immersed in the mounting ranks of the individually named dead, in precise alignment with iconic monuments to Washington and Lincoln, proved a stunningly moving and resonant experience for veterans and other citizens. The popularity of abstract work in and of the landscape advanced measurably.
Lin's career has advanced too. Over three decades, she has produced memorials such as the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Ala., and the Women's Table, at Yale University. Her architectural works include the Museum of African Art, in New York, and the Langston Hughes Library, in Clinton, Tenn.
Her work is typically "on the boundaries ... between science and art, art and architecture, public and private, east and west," she wrote in Boundaries, her widely quoted memoir. "I am always trying to find a balance between these opposing forces, finding the place where opposites meet."
Her more recent landscape-based installations, for instance, balance the seeming opposites of landscape and artifact. It might seem futile to take vivid outdoors experiences and constrain them within architectural enclosures, but Lin actually liberates their poetic qualities and intensifies a sense of their delicacy. In her sculpture "Blue Lake Pass," Lin recreates the undulations of a mountain landscape in a grid of 20 blocks, each 3 feet square with a digitally hewn surface. The viewer walking among them is simultaneously separate from and immersed in the land. The work is at once deeply natural and utterly mechanistic.
The Heinz Architectural Center exhibit reconfigures Lin's critically acclaimed eponymous 2010 show at the Arts Club of Chicago. For HAC, though, she is producing Pin River – Ohio (Allegheny & Monongahela), a location-specific continuation of a widely praised series.
Lin herself, an articulate but infrequent lecturer on her own work, speaks at the exhibition's Feb. 10 opening event.