A Dose of High Art

Who here has ever thought, at one point or another, that art is kind of pointless? Go ahead, raise your hands. It’s not like I’m going to see or anything…

As a lover and supporter of all fine arts, I have to say that I’ve thought this at one time or another, as much as I hate to say it. But no longer will I be a slave to such a close-minded perspective! What has brought about this change, you may ask? On a recent trip to the Orlando Museum of Art in Winter Park, I strolled through Maya Lin’s “A History of Water” exhibit. It made me realize the power art can have, both before and after it’s created.

Lin, the famous designer of the stark Vietnam War Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., has created an art exhibit with a purpose, and that purpose is something that I wholeheartedly agree with. “A History of Water” is a minimalistic, unconventional depiction of the changing complex of Earth’s rivers, lakes, and oceans. It focuses largely on the changes that we as humans have influenced, and the consequences they have for the entire planet.

Lin makes use of a few specific mediums: marble, recycled silver, pins, and 2 by 4 wood planks. It makes for a sophisticated, avant-garde space that just looks nice, if nothing else. There are many pieces on display, but here are just a few of my favorites:

1. “Landscape”

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This massive 50+ foot long wave is made entirely out of 2 by 4 wood pieces, and is meant to represent the curve of a wave. When you walk around it, you can never quite have the same view twice.

2. “Red Sea”

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For many of her pieces, Lin partnered up with geographers and topographers to create shapes and structures that accurately represent the land(and water)forms of the Earth. Her Bodies of Water series captures the topographic structures of various lakes and seas under the surface. Using layers of Baltic birch plywood, Lin mapped the 3-D composition of the Red Sea.

3. “Disappearing Bodies of Water: Aral Sea”

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The Aral Sea was once the fourth-largest lake in the world. Now, you’d be lucky to measure it at even a fraction of its area in the 1960s. A result of what has been called one of the worst environmental disasters of our time, the Aral Sea’s tributaries were diverted to support development in Kazakhstan. And the lake just dried up. Lin represents the sea’s saga with layers of Vermont Danby marble, the biggest area being placed at the bottom and subsequent measurements stacked on top. It’s a unique representation of this huge ecological problem.

4. “Silver Niagara”

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In a smooth, dreamy, shiny laying of silver, Lin maps out the bodies of water connected by North America’s famous Niagara Falls: Lake Erie (bottom) and Lake Ontario (top). As with her previous works, Lin partnered again with geographical analysts to determine a precise shape of her subjects. Yet this emphasis on realism and accuracy is somehow contradicted by the silver’s ethereal quality. I like the combination.

5. “Water Line”

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A few yards of aluminum tubing and some paint comprise what looks like a giant metal net draped from the gallery’s ceiling, but actually it’s a model of a section of the South Atlantic Ocean, near Antarctica. After studying topographical constructions of the ocean floor in this region, Lin bended the wire to create towering seamounts and deep trenches. She wanted to allow her viewers to walk beneath the ocean floor, and it’s about the closest I’ll ever get to actually doing so.

From what I experienced at “A History of Water,” it seemed to me that Lin was attempting to expose her audience to the things we don’t necessarily think about when we drink a glass of water, swim in a lake, or sail on the open ocean. Whether it’s a lake disappearing into thin air, a study of a wave, or rivers constructed out of pins, water is a lot more dynamic, a lot more mysterious, and a lot more precious than we think. And yes, I got all that from a trip to the museum.

If you’re in Orlando sometime between now and May 10th, I highly recommend seeing “A History of Water.” For more information, click here.

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