Maya Lin: A River Is a Drawing

An Immersive, Site-Specific Exhibition that Explores the Geology and Topography
of the Hudson River and the Effects of Climate Change

October 12, 2018 – January 20, 2019


Recognized as one of the most innovative artists working today, Maya Lin (born 1959) sees the world unlike any other artist. A deeply committed environmentalist, Lin interprets the natural world through art, science, history, and culture. Maya Lin: A River Is a Drawing is an ambitious, site-specific exhibition that will explore nature's lasting power and reveal its fragility through Maya Lin’s unique language of art. The acclaimed artist and designer will present new works in a variety of media, from bamboo reeds to glass industrial marbles, all created in response to the Hudson River.

This powerful exhibition will assert the perpetual importance of dialogue between artists past and present, environmental awareness, education, and public participation to reimagine our relationship with the natural world; it will activate the Museum both inside and out in new and exciting ways. The exhibition will be on view at the Hudson River Museum from October 12, 2018 through January 20, 2019, and is guest curated by Miwako Tezuka, a modern and contemporary Asian art specialist.

Long committed to environmental issues, Lin's uniquely aesthetic approach to data visualization has brought to the fore nature's macrocosmic presence in an affective, human scale, as is evident in her sculptures, installations, land art, monuments, and architectural work. Key building blocks of her work are often based on research in science and technology, and on information from sociohistorical, geological, and bio-statistical surveys.

Maya Lin was first introduced to international audiences at age 21 with the 1982 Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. This seminal work stands as one of the most powerful memorials of our time and reveals the elements of art that have defined Lin’s remarkable career in sculpture and earthworks, architecture, and memorials. She has continued to produce works that create a seamless connection to the land and an intimate and emotional connection to the viewer. In 2009, she was the recipient of the National Medal of Arts, the Smithsonian's Portrait of a Nation Prize in 2015, and in 2016, of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honor. Lin’s work has been the subject of solo museum exhibitions; she has created outdoor installations for public and private collections from New York to New Zealand. Many fine examples of her work have been presented at venues that include the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.; the Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, Washington; the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA; the Wanås Foundation, Sweden; and the Danish Museum of Decorative Art, Copenhagen, Denmark. In 2009, the artist created a permanent site-specific work, Wavefield, at Storm King Art Center in the lower Hudson Valley.

The City of Yonkers, home to the Hudson River Museum, is a familiar terrain to Maya Lin. In 2004, she designed the Greyston Bakery along the Yonkers waterfront on the Hudson River. In 2014, along the same waterfront, Lin and her husband Daniel Wolf purchased the derelict Yonkers City Jail and have converted it into a private art space, a decision heralded by Mayor Mike Spano as an important sign of a new cultural commitment to the city and the region.

In speaking about this exhibition, Maya Lin states, “I see rivers as fluid moving drawings—delineated and drawn out. I have never explored the same river in varied mediums at one time the way I plan to at the Hudson River Museum. From the bamboo garden stakes, which will create a drawing you physically interact with, to an interior flood of marbles of the very same river, to a smaller mapping of the entire Hudson River watershed. Each one is a unique drawing, and each one offers a different way in which the body will interact with the form.”

Exhibition Overview

The exhibition will be presented in seven sections, with all of the new works created along the theme of the Hudson River. In the Museum’s Courtyard, Lin will create a majestic and immersive installation from grass bamboo stalks in the form of a 3D drawing of the Hudson River basin. The bamboo stalks of varying lengths will be staked into the ground creating a complex and moving drawing. This large-scale work will invite visitors to walk through the installation, becoming physically part of the landscape.

Continuing to the indoor space and responding to the HRM’s Brutalist building features, Lin will install an augmented seafloor map of the Hudson Canyon with contours drawn with webbing wires, a 35-foot piece that will cascade through the Atrium. It will echo the deep-time history and geological formations related to the Hudson River. The Hudson Canyon is a submarine canyon created by the glacial change at the end of the last Ice Age. Indeed, it is one of the world's largest submarine canyons at over 7,000 feet deep and located merely 100 miles from New York City. This work will be created as a woven wire three-dimensional drawing in space, reflecting Lin’s interest in engaging scientific mapping technologies to create wondrous and ethereal hand-made drawings that are experiential and immersive in scale.

In the adjacent gallery, Lin will create The River of Marbles, a flood of pale blue-green industrial glass marbles that will take on a shape of the grand Hudson River basin. The 75,000 recycled marbles will follow and defy natural gravity and spread throughout the floor, the walls, and the ceiling. These delicate installations also speak to an almost woven or beaded aesthetic that plays with the notion of delicacy and scale in a surprising and contradictory way. The accumulation of the marbles cautions that the ecosystem is a balancing act of cohabitation by numerous creatures.

The exhibition will include an updated version of the room-size, multi-channel video installation Empty Room (2009), part of Maya Lin's ongoing interactive digital art project and environmental advocacy movement "What Is Missing?" ( Visitors step into the darkness with multiple projectors set under the floor and sounds of invisible animals. With plates of optical glass in hand, visitors can catch rays of light that reveal species—the animals that existed before and those that still exist but face imminent extinction. Lin will be revealing Greenprint, an interactive project where visitors can envision plausible sustainable future scenarios that balance mankind’s needs with the needs of the planet and offer individuals not just awareness about the loss of species, but clear and accessible information on how we can help both reduce climate change emissions and help protect species. Visitors will be invited to share and add personal memories of what they have witnessed disappear or be restored, helping to create a global online Memorial.

As part of her ongoing survey of rivers and waters and resulting drawings, the exhibition will also include new large-scale pin drawings of the Hudson River that magnify various points of interest from the artist’s perspective, and a series of encaustic relief sculptures based on the Laurentide Ice Sheet, which condense shapes of glacial changes of past millennial cycles and represent the colossal effects of climate change that continue to shape our environment.

The HRM welcomes fresh views and perspectives on its permanent collection and has invited Maya Lin to curate works from its holdings, which include Hudson River School and later Hudson River paintings and prints. Living through the rapid industrial development of late 19th to early 20th century-New York, the artists who later came to be called the Hudson River School were keenly aware of the onslaught of damages that humankind was bringing to the natural landscape of the region.

Curator Miwako Tezuka notes, “With her characteristic poetry of precision, Maya Lin is able to give an artistic shape to climate change and its many impacts on our environment so that we may arrive at a confluence of nature and humanity. To her, drawing is not merely connecting one point to another; it is connecting multiple points of reference in multidimensional spaces, just as a river is a line on a map that carries underneath it a deep-time chronology. The river, in this sense, is both her subject and her double as an artist.”

“It is with enormous pride that we present Maya Lin’s work, which boldly brings our attention to the ways in which humanity and the environment live in delicate balance,” states Hudson River Museum Director Masha Turchinsky. “With a mission and collection that reflect a commitment to American art and the environmental issues of our time, the Hudson River Museum is uniquely positioned to highlight Lin’s groundbreaking artistic vision for the union of the conceptual and natural world.”


The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalog, which will feature documentation of Maya Lin's artistic process and the completed, site-specific pieces within the Museum. It will include an essay by guest curator Miwako Tezuka, and a conversation with Maya Lin and Director Masha Turchinsky. The catalog is supported, in part, by Pace Gallery.

Related Programs

To complement Maya Lin: A River Is a Drawing, the Museum will offer a full menu of interdisciplinary programming. Visitors of all ages and backgrounds will be invited to explore and engage with Maya Lin's visual interpretations of the world in which we live, the macrocosmic presence of nature, and the impact of our human role within it. Programs will include an Artist Lecture with Maya Lin, a Gallery Tour with Guest Curator Miwako Tezuka, and Sunday Scholar Series lectures with leading art historians and environmental historians and advocates including:

  • Jeffrey Sachs, world-renowned professor of economics, leader in sustainable development, and Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University
  • Karenna Gore, Director of the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary
  • Paul Gallay, President, Riverkeeper
  • John Waldman, author of Running Silver: Restoring Atlantic Rivers and their Great Fish Migrations
  • Lee Bitsoi, Chief Diversity Officer, and bioethicist, Stony Brook University
Additional speakers and programs to be announced.

Miwako Tezuka, guest curator

Miwako Tezuka is a modern and contemporary Asian art specialist with a focus on Japan, and is consulting curator at Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins' Reversible Destiny Foundation, New York. Dr. Tezuka previously served as director of Japan Society Gallery, New York, and curator at The Asia Society Museum, New York, and is currently an independent curator and scholar. She has organized numerous exhibitions, including Points of Departure: Treasures of Japan from the Brooklyn Museum (2014), Rebirth: Recent Work by Mariko Mori (2013), and Yoshitomo Nara: Nobody's Fool (2010).

The exhibition will be featured on the Museum's website, and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter using the hashtag #HRMMayaLin

Major sponsorship is made possible by a generous grant from The Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts.

Lead sponsorship is provided by Louise and Leonard Riggio.

Lead sponsorship for the exhibition, as well as annual STEM-based school programming, is provided by Con Edison.

Support for the exhibition catalog is provided by Pace Gallery.

Exhibition programs are supported by the WLS Spencer Foundation.

Sponsorship is provided by Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

Image: Maya Lin (American, born 1959). Courtesy of the artist. Credit: Jesse Frohman.