Review: Maya Lin at Berkeley’s David Brower Center

MayaLin-PinRiver-Tuolomne
Maya Lin, Pin River — Tuolumne, steel pins, 5’8″ x 19’9.5″, 2008. Image: courtesy the artist

Art/Act: Maya Lin — an exhibition of environmentally themed sculpture and interactive work by the internationally known Chinese-American artist, architectural designer and creator of the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial in Washington, D.C. (1982) — opens at the David Brower Center in Berkeley on Friday, Sept. 19.

Lin’s show is something of a coup for the Brower, and a rare opportunity for Bay Area residents to experience her current work on their home turf.

Lin created her landmark piece at age 21 while still an undergraduate in architectural studies at Yale, having won a competition against 1,441 other submissions. In subsequent years, she has directed her vision toward projects — often site specific sculptures and earthworks — with environmental themes.

Portrait of Maya Lin, photo credit Walter Smith
Maya Lin. Photo: Walter Smith

As winner of the Brower’s 6th Annual Art/Act Award honoring “established artists who have dedicated a significant part of their careers to using art’s . . . power in the service of [environmental] activism,” Lin presents recent sculptures focusing on the natural ecosystems of the San Francisco Bay Area, its waterways especially.


Spare, elegant relief wall sculptures made of recycled silver or steel pins map out the contours of San Francisco Bay and the Tuolomne River (pictured top). In Maquette for Where the Land Meets the Sea, a wire model depicts the topography between Angel Island and the Golden Gate Bridge. While meant to “encourage viewers to consider the fragility of the Bay Area’s natural environments and our society’s dependence on them,” viewers may question whether such aesthetically pristine objects are potent enough to catalyze that shift in consciousness.

What is Missing? — an evolving multimedia interactive website Lin describes as her “final memorial” — documents vanishing species and threatened ecosystems via “wormholes” exploring specific locales. A Bay Area-focused “wormhole,” developed in collaboration with Lin and Malcolm Margolin of Berkeley-based Heyday Books, will be one locus of the Brower’s educational program for this exhibition.

Art/Act: Maya Lin will be accompanied by a series of public programs, including a free public lecture by the artist at 7:30 pm Monday, Sept. 29. See the Brower Center’s website for the calendar of events.

Art/Act: Maya Lin opens on Friday Sept. 19, with an opening reception, 7-9 pm, free with a $10 suggested donation. RSVP. The show runs through Feb. 4, 2015. Exhibition hours: Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm; Sundays, 10 am-1 pm. David Brower Center, 2150 Allston Way, Berkeley, CA 94704.

Are you a culture vulture? Berkeleyside’s Uncharted: The Berkeley Festival of Ideas is two days of provocative thinking, inspiring speakers, workshops, and a big party — all in downtown Berkeley on Oct. 24-25. Read all about it and register to attend at www.berkeleyideas.com.