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Monday, October 23, 2006

Maya Lin The Irrelevant

posted by on October 23 at 15:06 PM

This right-on, rock-hard beast of a story is why I love the Washington Post’s cultural critic Philip Kennicott. (My last link to him was his essay on the gilt framing of the dead head of Zarqawi at a press conference.)

The question about Lin, posed right there in the Post headline from yesterday (via), is “Why Has Maya Lin Retreated from the Battlefield of Ideas?”

Dear lord is that the right question, and I wish I’d thought to ask it in print when Lin was here. Over the course of a 90-minute interview with me, she said nothing intriguing, nothing of importance, nothing that wasn’t shockingly thin. Based on her Vietnam memorial, I thought this woman was a powerful thinker. “I wanted to bring the outdoors inside,” she told me. In his last, addled days, my grandfather could have come up with that.

Then, her show was gimpy and irrelevant. Her two lectures (which admittedly, I couldn’t and then didn’t, attend) stirred no conversation that I’ve heard of. In fact, everyone I’ve spoken to who attended was struck at the lectures’ total lack of insightfulness.

The only way the exhibition moved me was that I became needled by the knowledge that the Henry Art Gallery spent a whopping $288,000 on it. That makes it probably the highest-price exhibition the museum has ever put on, according to a museum spokeswoman. (Ninety thousand dollars of the $288,000 was labor costs to build the two least successful pieces: the mountainscape with grocery aisles between its parts, and the abbreviated hump of 2X4s that squeezed visitors to the walls around it and couldn’t be walked on without signing a waiver).

Every few years, the Henry commissions a major exhibition from a contemporary artist. It’s a noble act with plenty of risk involved, and the Henry can’t entirely be blamed for a dud. But let’s not pretend this show was an achievement. It was sad, and small, and disappointing, and very, very, very expensive.

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Maya Lin "lucked" out on the VietNam Memorial and has been riding that success for her whole career...her work isnt that special, she just has a name that people can identify and work that is so goddamned easy to swallow...So its not suprising that she has nothing to say, her work doesnt either!!

Posted by Flynn Abagail | October 23, 2006 3:06 PM

But I liked it.

Posted by giantladysquirrels | October 23, 2006 3:37 PM

everything is all aesthetic fluffery at this point. at least she can make pretty city parks. everyone likes ice skating rinks, right?

Posted by craig brownson | October 23, 2006 3:46 PM

Lin's work is very powerful in situ. She does terrific, monumental, environmental pieces. Even the sort of irritating Coeducation memorial (uh, sculpture?) at Yale is quite interesting, textural, interesting, good to touch. Meaningful.

I didn't see her local exhibit here, though was interested, but I suspected I would find it too ephemeral based on her other work I've seen.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman | October 23, 2006 3:51 PM

One good idea. Twenty-five years ago. Why is it surprising that she hasn't had another one? She isn't really an artist at all. One good idea, made good mostly by the emptiness of it, because any EXPRESSED idea on the subject of Vietnam in 1981 was doomed to failure. Now, she's dull, empty, incompetent: why is is this a surprise?

Posted by Fnarf | October 23, 2006 3:58 PM

This post, and a few of the comments, make me think-- damn, some people take Art (or whatever it is that Maya Lin does) way too seriously.

I liked the Henry exhibit. Call it aesthetic fluffery if you will. I liked the simplicity of it. Granted, not all the pieces were good, but a few of them were very engaging.

It was an indoor experiment. Maybe it's not really appropriate for her style. I wasn't thrilled about signing a waiver either, but hey, this is the United States of Litigation.

And art, as a general rule, is always overpriced.

Posted by Jamey | October 23, 2006 4:27 PM

loved it. loved her. fuck you.

Posted by BR | October 23, 2006 7:38 PM


Posted by josh | October 23, 2006 11:07 PM

Not all artist are very good at talking about art, and I don't think that disqualifies the work from consideration.

I liked the Henry exhibit, and looking forward to the installations related to the Lewis & Clark trail (only one of which is completed).

I realize this is where I should include a snarky strangeresque insult, but it's 7:30 in the morning and I can't come up with one.

Posted by jb | October 24, 2006 7:36 AM

* Not all artist are very good at talking about art...

A good and simple truth. And if memory serves Lin was trained as an architect, a design profession whose members are forced to drop intellectual abstractions and create within the dangerous world of nuts, bolts, codes, budgets, and power besotted clients.

* “Why Has Maya Lin Retreated from the Battlefield of Ideas?”

Only an art critic would ask that question,they who consciously flee the belly of the creative beast. Remember that Lin has every reason
flee the battlefield of ideas - as the painfully young winning designer of the memorial competition she was instulted, thrashed, and humiliated. She probably is scarred for life by that horrendous experience.

Posted by Orson | October 24, 2006 1:24 PM

Ah, The Henry Show. Well I was underwhelmed...yet remained unmotivated to give it any energy to write my two cents about it. Just not my cup of tea.

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