The best way to experience Systematic Landscapes, the latest art installation by celebrated artist and sculptor Maya Lin, is to turn off the cell phone, turn on the senses, and take a slow walk through space and time. Best known for her Vietnam Veterans Memorial (1982) in Washington, D.C., Lin brings to San Francisco’s de Young Museum three environmental installation pieces that continue her interest in exploring the shifting landscape amidst the zeitgeist of global chaos.
Lin proclaims to be a committed environmentalist, and through her work encourages people to observe an aging world with fresh eyes. “I do not believe in preaching through my art,” she says while on a recent walk through the exhibit. “But I am asking you to take a different, longer look at the land. When we’re little, we are looking at things for the first time. As we grow older, we stop paying attention. So, if I could get you to take pause, maybe you’ll start seeing things again.”
Plopped smack-dab in the de Young’s Wilsey Court, it is hard to miss “2×4 Landscape,” one of three large-scale installations that features more than 60,000 boards set on end, creating a vast hill that peaks at 10 ft. John Buchanan, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, says that during the more than two and a half weeks it took to install, visitors to the museum were “enchanted and enthralled with how ‘2×4 Landscape’ was actualized.”
“Water Line,” the second sizable work, is “a drawing where the shadows are equal in weight to the piece,” Lin describes. Hung ever so carefully, it is a graceful, wire-frame depiction suspended three-dimensionally in space, representing Lin’s fascination with the subterranean world.
“Blue Lake Pass,” the last in Lin’s extensive trio, represents the rugged San Juan Mountains of Colorado. The artist’s topographic translation is comprised of chunks of stacked particle board that she segmented and pulled apart to create landscape strata through which the visitor can stroll and experience a different relationship to the land.
Systematic Landscapes, essentially Lin’s concept of capturing nature’s geographic features and confining them to a museum space, also includes: a series of sculptures based on the water volumes of various inland seas; plaster reliefs of imagined landscapes that are embedded directly into gallery walls; and a series of landscape drawings inspired by obsolete atlases and modified to represent alternative topographies.
The exhibition has been traveling around the country, and while here in San Francisco, Lin’s “Pin River” has shapeshifted into the sinuous path that the Tuolumne River takes through Hetch Hetchy Valley. “Pin River” expresses Lin’s interest in how man-made lakes and dams have altered rivers with a synergy of thousands of straight, stainless steel pins stuck into the wall, creating a bristle of shadows that play off the gallery lighting. To complement this piece, Lin has created limited edition, 34″ x 10″ silver-cast sculptures of the Tuolomne River that will be for sale at the museum with proceeds going to the De Young.
“Systematic Landscapes” shows at the M.H. de Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr. in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, through Jan. 18, 2009. For more information, visit deyoungmuseum.org.