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    Waxing Topographical
by Meredith Mendelsohn
Untitled (Topographical Landscape)
(detail) &
Rock Field
Wave Field
Longitude Series
Crater Series
"Maya Lin: Topologies," Sept 1-Oct 31, 1998, at Grey Art Gallery, NYU, 100 Washington Square East, New York, N.Y. 10003.

Informed by science, yet not the slightest bit didactic, "Maya Lin: Topologies" marks the artist-cum-architect's continuing concern with landscape, articulated here as a perfect marriage of geology and geography.

Lin, who was still an undergraduate studying architecture at Yale University when she created the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (1981-82), is a Chinese-American who was born and raised in Athens, Ohio. Her work is surrounded by a discourse that cites an "Eastern esthetic." Its horizontality and fluidity, for instance, echo that of the Great Wall of China. Her work is also deeply entrenched in a technological experience of landscape and nature, particularly through the use of aerial photographs, satellite images, and microscopic and stop camera motion.

This is Lin's first solo exhibition in New York, and the selection of work, made by Jeff Fleming, chief curator at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem, N.C., is refreshingly cohesive. Some 15 pieces -- three large installations, works on paper, wax sculptures, models and drawings of off-site structures and a table and chair set she designed for Knoll -- fill the upstairs and downstairs galleries.

The star of the show is an installation titled Untitled (Topographical Landscape) (1997). With the help of a computer record of curvatures in the earth's surface, Lin has cut gentle, microcosmic versions of these curves into 128 slabs of unpainted particle board, then put them together to make a 16-by-18 foot platform. The assemblage recalls the terraced facades of desert dunes, or the agitated surface of the ocean. Though the piece is static and whole, each individual slab looks like a cross section of a wave at a different moment in its development, creating an illusion of movement and the subsequent passing of time. Typical of Lin's work, this piece effortlessly controls the physics of natural phenomena, its meditative peacefulness echoing the calm spaces of a Japanese garden.

Rock Field (1997), 45 blown-glass forms lying on the floor, also deals with time. The clear bubbles could be pebbles magnified 1,000 times, or a model of boulders -- in each case the geological formations are produced by the passing of eons.

Avalanche, 1998, is a heap of blue-green glass bits, piled 10 feet tall in a corner of the upper gallery. Recalling ancient fertility symbols, the triangular pile bursts forth from the walls with the force of childbirth. The glistening heap looks soft, but has teeth -- a sculptural vagina dentata.

Though celebrated more for her large-scale architectural projects and site-specific installations -- think of Wave Field (1993-94) at the University of Michigan, a 10,000 square-foot earthwork divided into rows of nearly 50 sod-covered waves, some up to three feet high -- Lin's smaller studio works are also well-conceived and carefully rendered.

Flatlands Series (1997), eight blue monoprints (of a series of 10) on loan from Gagosian, was made by inking broken glass. Each blue shape resembles a different satellite view of the earth, as the empty cracks in the glass read like rivers. Challenging standard perceptions of scale, they look like vast areas cut from the earth's surface with a huge Exacto knife, lifted up with a spatula, and delicately placed onto paper.

In the Longitude Series (1998) Lin has used topographical data to draw five different surface elevations of areas along the earth's vertical axes -- one in particular runs from South America through the Caribbean through North America to Buffin Bay. The longitudinal bands look like cross sections of the earth's crust sliced off the planet's surface like rind off an orange. Or perhaps they could be read as seismographic data, dually signifying the earth's crust, as index and as topographical silhouette.

MEREDITH MENDELSOHN is assistant editor of ArtNet Magazine.