‘I See Rivers as Fluid Moving Drawings’: Watch Artist Maya Lin Re-Imagine New York’s Waterways

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Production still from the Art21 "Extended Play" film, "Maya Lin: New York." © Art21, Inc. 2013.

Since she first entered the public eye with her design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Maya Lin has dedicated her career to transforming abstract notions about the environment into stirring visual artworks. Integral to the American artist’s practice is drawing attention to the ways in which humans interact with—and affect—the natural world.

In 2006, Lin began an ambitious series of “pin rivers,” where she painstakingly recreated the topographies of the world’s rivers and estuaries using stainless steel pins that become sculptural wall reliefs.

“It’s all about being random” Lin’s studio assistant, James Ewert, told Art21 in an exclusive interview ahead of Lin’s solo show “Here and There” at Pace Gallery in 2013. Lin chimed in, explaining that although there is no underlying pattern, rendering the waterways into a physical form gets viewers “to think of that river system as something that is much more controlled or finite…something that is a singular organism.”

Production still from the Art21 “Extended Play” film, “Maya Lin: New York.” © Art21, Inc. 2013.

After New York was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and concerns about flooding entered the public conversation, Lin turned her attention to the Hudson River, its tributaries, and the floodplain of the hurricane. Six years later, the artist continues her study of New York’s waterways. Her new show is now on view at the Hudson River Museum in Upstate New York. “I see rivers as fluid moving drawings—delineated and drawn out,” she said of the show, which features a river sculpture composed of more than 20,000 pins, one of her largest to date.

For Lin, though, it’s a moral issue. “One species absolutely doesn’t have a right to overrun the planet,” she said in the 2013 interview for the “Extended Play” series. “As an artist, I don’t want to be preachy. Throughout my work, I’ve tried to reveal aspects of the natural world that you may not be thinking about.”


Watch the full segment, which originally appeared as part of the “Art in the Twenty-First Century” television series on PBS, below. “Maya Lin: A River Is a Drawing” is on view at the Hudson River Museum through January 20, 2019. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new season of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship Art in the Twenty-First Century television is available now on PBS. Watch full episodes and learn about the organization’s education programs at Art21.org.

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