Maya Lin, Star Architect Who Created D.C. Vietnam Memorial, Will Create Public Art for Obama Presidential Center

Maya Lin, whose elegant blend of art, architecture, and landscape has won worldwide acclaim, has been tapped to create an installation for the campus of the Obama Presidential Center. The work will be placed in the Water Garden, named for former president Barack Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham.

Titled Seeing Through the Universe, the sculpture will “feature an upright ‘oculus’” piece that mists and a flat “pebble” piece that fills with water and then cascades over,” according to the Center’s website. A project of the Obama Foundation, the Center broke ground in September 2021 and is expected to open to the public in 2025.

“When we thought about what may be a fitting way to commemorate my mother’s influence on my sister and me, I thought about where she would want to be in this space,” Barack Obama said in a statement. “I could picture her sitting on one of the benches on a nice summer afternoon, smiling and watching a bunch of kids running through the fountain, and I thought that would capture who she was as well as just about anything else.”

Lin is among the most-sought after architects in the United States, with commissions including the Neilson Library at Smith College, the Museum of Chinese in America in Manhattan, and the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. In 1981, Lin, then an unknown 21-year-old architecture student, won the design competition for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which remains one of the most-visited public artworks in Washington, D.C.

Lin in most famous for her urban memorials, but her practice also spans grand organic installations, like 2021’s haunting Ghost Forest — 49 Atlantic white cedars, from a dying grove in the Pine Barrens in New Jersey, planted in Madison Square Park. They were a shock amid the veritable green of the lawn, an omen of the looming climate apocalypse. After the installation closed, the trees were harvested by a Bronx wood shop, where teenagers shaped them into boats.

Around 20 years ago, Lin was commissioned to create six public “earthworks” along the Columbia River system by the Confluence Project, a Pacific Northwest nonprofit dedicated to educating the public about the historic importance of the region’s waterways to local Indigenous communities. In 2008, working in collaboration with the architect Johnpaul Jones, she completed the Vancouver Land Bridge an verdant pedestrian bridge soaring over Highway 14.

“My goal at times was to disappear, not to add an artwork, but my art was to erase prior damage and to restore a connection back to the environment, allowing the visitor a visceral and intimate connection back to the land itself,” Lin wrote of the project.

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