The theme of the big, splashy feature article in the March 17 Washington Post Style section on the new exhibit, “May Lin: Systematic Landscapes, ” running through July 12 at Washington, D.C.’s Corcoran Gallery of Art, was the fact that the renowned artist was having her first show in the nation’s capital since 1981. That’s when her Vietnam Veterans Memorial design was unveiled.
Lin went on to design several other memorials and “monumental landscapes, ” and the show is “her attempt to bring indoors” the work “that she has been doing for the past 15 years, ” reporter David Montgomery wrote in the article.
Montgomery asked Lin about her famed reticence to speak publicly about The Wall . “She was busy processing the precocious success and controversy, ” he said, referring to how young Lin was (a college junior) when she won the nationwide design contest, and the loud criticism of her abstract design from some quarters, “trying to figure out who she was as an artist. And she was working hard at her art–‘obsessively, ‘ she says. Her instinct was, don’t look back, keep creating.”
Lin said she continues to have conflicting feelings about the experience. “It’s not bad memories, ” she told Montgomery. “Let’s put it this way: I didn’t have a really nice time.”
“I do think I have this big white elephant right here, ” she said, pointing to the area of the Memorial. “Like, ‘Oh, God, she did that, it’s so great. You know, this [other] stuff is crap.’ It’s going to happen.”
Lin said she was “desperately trying to move past the Memorial as fast as possible as an artist. I was trying to prove to myself that I could balance out my life in a different way. After the Vietnam Memorial, I don’t think you can prove it to the world to a degree that you would need to, so I’m just not interested.”
It’s “not that I don’t love the Memorial, ” she said. “But you do feel it’s like this big galumphing elephant. And I think you move on. And yet, at the same time, it’s a big piece. It will always by my biggest piece and I’m very proud of it.”
She visited the Memorial while in D.C. with her husband and two daughters, something, Lin said, she likes to do at night. “It was really magical, ” she said. “In a funny way, the popularity of it is a sign it’s working. But when you’re dealing with intimacy and connection, there’s something when you see it with a lot of people that’s different from when you see it on your own.”