AMERICAN, BORN 1959
Viewed from above, the undulating swells of earth forming Storm King Wavefield appear to naturally rise from and roll along the grassy terrain. Set against a backdrop formed by Schunnemunk Mountain to the west and the Hudson Highlands to the south and east, Maya Lin’s earthwork inspires a broad perspective on the landscape from which it emerges and entices deep exploration of the grassy alleys between the cresting peaks. The seven nearly four-hundred-foot-long waves, ranging in height from ten to fifteen feet high, proceed at the same scale as a series of mid-ocean waves. The resulting effect recalls the experience of being at sea, where sight of adjacent waves and land is lost between the swells.
Storm King Wavefield is the largest and last in a series of three of Lin’s wavefields. (The other two are located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Miami, Florida.) Lin selected the eleven-acre site as an environmental reclamation project, a sustainable reworking of the former gravel pit that supplied material for the New York State Thruway. When Storm King was founded in 1960, a significant portion of its grounds consisted of large stores of gravel in surrounding fields. The ravaged landscape was in turn landscaped and shaped anew by the very same gravel. This compelling, untold story excited Lin. “I’ve tended to create works on the edges and boundaries of places…. I always knew that I wanted to culminate the series with a field that literally, when you were in it, you became lost inside it.” Working with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which sanctioned and supported the reclamation of the site, Lin collaborated with landscape architects to utilize the existing gravel and topsoil at the site. The low-impact grasses and natural drainage system she introduced make Wavefield an organic, living work that continues to evolve.
Lin’s biography provides some insights into Wavefield’s origins and imagery. Growing up in rural Ohio, she visited the earthen mounds of the Hopewell and Adena Indians. She learned about Japanese gardens and architecture from her father, a ceramist and dean of the College of Fine Arts at Ohio University, Athens, who had grown up in a Japanese-style house in China. These early experiences, along with the influential innovations of earthwork artists in the 1960s and ’70s, helped shape what has become Lin’s lifelong interest in working with the landscape.
Lin earned great prominence early on, while still a student at Yale University, for her Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. Breaking from typical memorial form, Lin’s striking design features a deep cut into the earth and is at once profoundly minimal and metaphorical. Such qualities have threaded throughout her prolific career in art and architecture, along with a sustained commitment to environmentalism. What is Missing?, a multi-sited, ongoing project that Lin considers her final memorial, focuses on bringing awareness to the current crisis surrounding biodiversity and habitat loss. “Whether it’s art, architecture, or memorials,” she notes, “I realize now that all my work is intrinsically tied to the natural landscape around us.”