Maya Lin: Groundswell

Throughout her career, Maya Lin (b. 1959) has created a remarkable body of work that balances large-scale site-specific installations, intimate studio artworks, architectural projects, and memorials. She created Groundswell in response to the unique architecture of the Wexner Center in 1992–93, as the recipient of the second Wexner Center Artist Residency Award in visual arts. The work was installed in the spring of 1993 and formally dedicated on October 17, 1993, in conjunction with the opening of Maya Lin: Public / Private, an exhibition that presented Lin's studio objects for the first time, showing them in conjunction with photographs and models documenting her large-scale public projects.

Groundswell occupies three separate sites on three different levels of the Wexner Center, filling what Lin saw as "residual spaces" in the building's design. Its landscape of glass shows her interest in such diverse sources as Japanese gardens and the prehistoric mounds found throughout Ohio. Lin has said of Groundswell that "the piece is a conscious effort on my part to combine my Eastern and Western cultural heritage—namely, mixing my affinity for the southeastern Ohio terrain and its regional burial mounds with my love for the raked-sand gardens of Japan." As Sarah J. Rogers, Wexner Center director of exhibitions at the time of Lin's residency, remarked in her essay for the Maya Lin: Public / Private catalogue, "Lin's interpretation of these forms reflects her own forthright vision." In nature, a "ground swell" is a major undulation or shift of the ocean or the earth's surface caused by seismic activity or a powerful storm. "Lin's Groundswell is similarly aggressive in its fluid interruption of these previously vacant spaces," noted Rogers.

Lin has also commented that Groundswell relates to both her studio artworks and her public projects, enabling her to "bring my private studio sculptures into the public domain." Its material, shattered tempered glass, is something she had previously used in her artworks, finding it "incredibly seductive, very beautiful" but with a kind edginess as a commonplace and even potentially "dangerous" substance. The glass came from recycled glass doors (clear) and recycled car windows (green), mixed together to create a color that suggests water.

To mark the twentieth anniversary of Groundswell's original installation, the Wexner Center and Lin worked together to restore the work and recover the original glistening qualities of the glass. Notes Wexner Center Director Sherri Geldin, "From the moment Maya Lin completed Groundswell it became an inextricable part of the Wexner Center, ingeniously filling and transforming the concrete voids of Peter Eisenman's design. And while the Wex does not have a collection, this work has become a permanent part of our institutional identity and landscape. We are so grateful to Maya for working with us to restore the piece to its original splendor, and for returning here to reinstall the work on its 20th anniversary."

Lin was particularly interested in having the original recycled glass be used again instead of replaced as much as possible. In January 2013, all of the glass was removed and then sifted utilizing a modified grain separator and cleaned with an eco-friendly detergent. The restored glass, augmented by a small amount of recycled, tumbled clear plate glass, is being reinstalled by Lin in early April.

Groundswell was made possible through the Wexner Center Artist Residency Award program.

More about the Artist

The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Maya Lin grew up in Athens, Ohio, where her parents served on the faculty at Ohio University. She graduated from Yale University, receiving a BA in 1981 and an MA in 1986, and has maintained a professional studio in New York City since then.

Originally a project for an undergraduate class, Lin's visionary design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, catapulted her to international attention in 1981. Her recent environmental artworks include Storm King Wavefield, Where the Land Meets the Sea, and Eleven Minute Line. Architectural projects encompass institutional and private commissions and range from a chapel and library for the Children's Defense Fund at Haley Farm in Clinton, TN, to the Sculpture Center's space in Long Island City to Aveda's headquarters in downtown Manhattan. A Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, AL, and the Women's Table at Yale University are among her other memorials. Lin's current endeavors include an earthwork in New Zealand; a medical research center in Cambridge, MA; a park in Newport, RI; the Confluence Project, a multisite installation spanning the Columbia River system in the Pacific Northwest; What is Missing?, a global, interactive multisite artwork intended to raise awareness about the crises of biodiversity and habitat loss (described by Lin as her last memorial); and exhibitions in New York and London in spring 2013.

Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision, a documentary film about Lin and her work, won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1995. Her book Boundaries, about her work and creative processes, was published by Simon & Schuster in 2006 and is in its fifth printing. Among her many honors, Lin is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Women's Hall of Fame. She received the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama in 2009.

​Quotations come from May Lin: Public / Private (Columbus, OH: Wexner Center for the Arts, The Ohio State University, 1994) and Maya Lin, Boundaries (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006).