October 30, 2019

Two New Maya Lin Works Grace Grounds of Lewis Arts Complex

“THE PRINCETON LINE”: Named after the train line that once extended to the site where the Lewis Arts complex now stands, the newly commissioned work, “an undulating sculpted line of molded earth” by internationally acclaimed artist Maya Lin, will be one of the topics of discussion at Lin’s visit to the Princeton University campus on November 5. Another topic will be a second Lin installation, “Einstein’s Table,” a water table suggesting the Earth’s orbit, the Milky Way, and black holes, also on the grounds of the Lewis Center. (Photo courtesy of Princeton University Art Museum)

By Donald Gilpin

Two installations created by the celebrated artist Maya Lin have been added to the grounds of Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts complex. The Princeton Line, a grassy, wave-like expanse of lawn, “a sculpted line of molded earth,” stretching from near the new Dinky Station up a hill to the arts center, and Einstein’s Table, a granite water table, will be the focus of a public program featuring the artist next week.

Lin will be on campus on November 5, and will engage in an informal discussion on public art, design inspiration, and the relationship in her work between art, architecture, and design with Princeton University Art Museum Director James Steward in Richardson Auditorium.

“The two Princeton works tap into my dual interests in immersive and environmental earthworks, as well as my focus on a more object-oriented cartographic and science-based approach,” Lin said. “The Princeton project is all about finding a sustainable landscape approach that blends in with the existing site.”

Installed last year, The Princeton Line is one of Lin’s series of outdoor earth sculptures and takes its name from the train line that once extended to the site where the Lewis Arts complex now stands. The title also refers to the way the earth appears to be folded in an undulating line.

The Princeton Line builds on Maya’s earlier work with earth art, with shaping and folding the earth, but specifically responds to the topography of the site,” Steward wrote in an email. “I think it asks the viewer to consider our relationship with the natural versus the manmade landscape, and is both mysterious and a bit playful in that it also invites us to occupy that landscape.”

Einstein’s Table, recently completed with the water element ready to be activated later this week, is a granite water table, 11 feet in diameter, whose elliptical shape recalls drawings of the Earth’s orbit. The black granite with its “very particular striation in the black…was chosen by Maya to evoke the Milky Way — but seen through gently moving water,” said Steward.

The elliptical shape, along with the water and the fountain at its center, were designed by Lin as an homage to Albert Einstein and his theory on black holes. Like the earth drawing of The Princeton Line, this work also adds to a series created by Lin, in this case a series of water tables, which was initially inspired in the 1990s by another sculpture on the Princeton University campus, Scott Burton’s Public Table (1978-79), located outside of East Pyne Hall across from Murray-Dodge Hall.

Steward described Einstein’s Table as the most abstract of Lin’s water tables. It “responds to discoveries about the universe and astronomy — and specifically our immateriality in the face of the cosmos and the phenomenon of the black hole,” he said.

“Maya Lin’s sensitive and studied considerations of context, space, and ecosystems have resulted in a project of beautiful abstraction that reflects our commitment to the arts and sciences, and that now deepens the gateway experience of the campus first shaped by Steven Holl [designer of the Lewis Center for the Arts complex],” Steward noted. “I’ve wanted to add Maya’s work to the Princeton campus for over ten years, and am thrilled that these works now join this beautiful environment.”

Lin, who lives and works in New York City, has received numerous awards, including the National Medal of Arts in 2009 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016. She first gained international recognition as an undergraduate at Yale University in 1982, when her design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. was chosen in a national competition.

She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.