Credit: Maya Lin working on Civil Rights Memorial, 1989. Courtesy of Adam Stoltman
On View Sept. 30–April 16, 2023
The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery has announced “One Life: Maya Lin,” the first biographical exhibition dedicated to the architect, sculptor, environmentalist, and designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Tracing Lin’s life from childhood to the present, this latest edition of the museum’s “One Life” series will highlight the development of the artist’s approaches and processes through a variety of three-dimensional models, sculptures, sketchbooks and photographs. The exhibition will bring together a carefully selected assortment of Lin’s family photographs and personal ephemera to offer additional insight into Lin’s remarkable career. “One Life: Maya Lin,” curated by Dorothy Moss, the museum’s curator of painting and sculpture, will be on view on the museum’s second floor from Sept. 30 through April 16, 2023, in the redesigned “One Life” gallery. This is the museum’s first “One Life” exhibition dedicated to an Asian American.
“Maya Lin’s extraordinary career stems from her commitment to history, human rights and the environment,” Moss said. “The exhibition will reveal the roots of her interests. As a very young child growing up in rural Ohio, Lin developed what she describes as ‘a strong love and respect for the land,’ and this focus on the natural world has translated into a profound body of work that is grounded in empathy. She has written of her practice, ‘Whether socially or aesthetically based, in these works I seek to create a dialogue with the viewer, to allow a place of contemplation, sometimes an incorporation of history, always a reliance on time, memory, or a passage or journey.’”
Lin (b. 1959) grew up in Athens, Ohio, where her parents, Henry Huan Lin (a ceramicist) and Julia Chang Lin (a poet and literature professor), were on the faculty of Ohio University. Lin credits her parents, both of whom emigrated from China in the 1940s, with setting high expectations for her and her brother. When she was just 21 and an undergraduate at Yale University, Lin was catapulted to global prominence for her controversial and ultimately renowned Vietnam Veterans Memorial (1982). “One Life: Maya Lin” coincides with the 40th anniversary of the memorial’s dedication, which took place in November 1982. Lin has since produced an influential oeuvre within both art and architecture. Whether designing large-scale, site-specific installations, sculpture, architecture, memorials or intimate drawings, Lin’s practice has consistently explored how people experience and relate to landscape. She describes her work as “a systematic ordering of the land that is tied to history, time and language.”
“One Life: Maya Lin” will feature an interactive installation designed by Lin as part of her ongoing, multimedia memorial to the environment “What Is Missing?” (2012–present), which addresses the biodiversity crisis by inviting viewers to share memories of natural elements that have vanished during their lifetimes.
The museum’s “One Life” series, first presented in 2006, examines the biography of a single figure or specific theme. Recent editions have included “One Life: Marian Anderson” and “One Life: Sylvia Plath.”
“One Life: Maya Lin” has been made possible by the Guenther and Siewchin Yong Sommer Endowment Fund and Bloomberg Philanthropies. This project received federal support from the Asian Pacific American Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center.
National Portrait Gallery
The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery tells the multifaceted story of the United States through the individuals who have shaped American culture. Spanning the visual arts, performing arts and new media, the Portrait Gallery portrays poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists whose lives tell the nation’s story.
The National Portrait Gallery is located at Eighth and G streets N.W., Washington, D.C. Smithsonian Information: (202) 633-1000. Connect with the museum at npg.si.edu and on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.