Maya Lin at Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art

Water has always been an important subject of Maya Lin’s environmentally focused artistic practice. The legendary American artist, designer and activist often represents water as both pathway and boundary, calling forth the implications of its necessity, accessibility, scarcity and abundance. This spring and summer Maya Lin at Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art (Virginia MOCA) presents several new works by the artist responding to the Chesapeake Bay watershed, complemented by other water-related works by her, in Maya Lin: A Study of Water. The exhibition not only invites discovery, but also encourages contemplation about the many ways in which we need water and manage its powerful bearings on our environment.

Organized by Virginia MOCA and guest curated by Melissa Messina, Maya Lin: A Study of Water will only be on view in Virginia Beach. The exhibition is free.

“Located at the crossroads of the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art and the Virginia Beach community are ideally situated to undertake this thematic project with Maya Lin,” Virginia MOCA Director and CEO Gary Ryan said. “Our region and the entire world are at a critical environmental inflection point, which Maya Lin’s articulate work helps us to process and understand.”

Maya Lin: A Study of Water embodies Lin’s experiential use of scale, poetic use of common materials and process of mapping as a conceptual framework — what she describes as “revealing things we may not be thinking about.”

This mapping, which visualizes water’s natural and manmade contour, rise, ebb, flow, thaw and evaporation, also elicits a sense of time and balance. In this way Maya Lin connects history — both ancient and recent — to the urgency of today’s climate crisis.

Drawn from Lin’s multidecade career, the works in Maya Lin: A Study of Water evoke water’s many forms and patterns, including rivers and their rise, oceans and their tides, and icebergs and the detriment their melting poses. Created with artistic intuition and scientific research, Lin’s works are compelling in both their beauty and their myriad meanings.

The exhibition centers on a new site-responsive sculpture Marble Chesapeake & Delaware Bay (2022), a breathtaking configuration of glass marbles that maps the Chesapeake’s waterways onto the walls and floor of the gallery. Silver Chesapeake (2009), Lin’s recycled silver wall sculpture, will be presented to further manifest the artist’s formal and conceptual considerations of the region’s waterscapes. These works anchor a selection of additional sculptural representations of water by Lin in various media.

“Maya Lin’s insightful and unforgettable works address some of the most important issues facing us all today and are particularly poignant for Virginia MOCA, which is part of the Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Bay regions,” guest curator Melissa Messina said.

Maya Lin, Marble Chesapeake & Delaware Bay, 2022. Glass marbles and adhesive. Photo by Kerry Ryan McFate. Courtesy of Pace Gallery.
Maya Lin, Folding the Columbia, 2017, glass marbles and adhesive, 13′ x 26′ x 1″ (396.2 cm x 792.5 cm x 2.5 cm), INSTALLATION, Detail 3, No. 67693 Format of original photography: digital


The connections to the Chesapeake region and Virginia Beach found throughout Maya Lin: A Study of Water are expanded through the community engagement efforts of the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art. The audio tour will include the voices of scientists, environmentalists and local students. The museum continues its community gallery exhibitions series, Open Call, with a call to artists of all ages to create works informed by Lin’s work in the exhibition. Virginia MOCA is also collaborating with area school districts on a design challenge for students, whose site-specific sculptures inspired by Lin’s work will be installed on the grounds of the museum.

“Maya Lin’s stunning work casts fresh light on the beauty of waterways like the Chesapeake Bay, and how they weave together millions of people and their impact across boundaries,” Chesapeake Bay Foundation Hampton Roads Director Christy Everett said. “While these waters are at risk from pollution and climate change, the exhibition reminds us that each of us can be part of the solution through advocacy, conservation and restoration.”

Lin’s ongoing multimedia project What Is Missing? will invite Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art visitors to share memories and ecological perspectives of their communities. What is Missing? is a collectivized global timeline that made its first public appearance in 2009 at the California Academy of Sciences. Contributions from Virginia MOCA visitors will be collected and included in the ongoing project, providing a unique perspective given Virginia MOCA’s key position at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Maya Lin has defined What is Missing? as her final memorial, established to raise awareness of the ongoing sixth mass extinction.


A host of interdisciplinary public programs designed to engage visitors throughout the run of the exhibition will include a conversation with guest curator Melissa Messina; debut reading of the poem commissioned by Virginia MOCA from Luisa Igloria, Poet Laureate of Virginia; gallery talks; monthly Coffee + Conversation events; Looking to Learn offerings for ages 3-8; and Instagram Live chats. For more details and a complete schedule, please visit


One of the most renowned visual artists of our time, Maya Lin is the recipient of the National Medal of Arts (2009) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2016). Throughout her 40-year career melding fine art, architecture and design, Maya Lin has connected themes of the environment, memory, loss and advocacy.

After completing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (1982), the Civil Rights Memorial (1989) in Montgomery, Alabama, and the Women’s Table (1993) at Yale University, Lin turned her creative attention to a range of art and design projects.

Among Maya Lin’s notable site-specific sculptures, earthworks and architecture projects are Ghost Forest (2021), an installation in Madison Square Park, New York; the Neilson Library at Smith College (2021), Northampton, Massachusetts; Museum of Chinese in America (2009) in New York; and Storm King Wavefield (2009) at Storm King Art Center, New Windsor, New York.


Melissa Messina is an independent curator, curatorial advisor and curator of the Mildred Thompson Estate. For over 15 years, her exhibitions and public programs have been presented in cultural institutions throughout the U.S. and around the world. She has curated solo shows for such esteemed women sculptors as Lynda Benglis, Chakaia Booker, Ebony G. Patterson, Shinique Smith and Ursula Von Rydingsvard.

Messina has worked on site-responsive projects with the artists Natasha Bowdoin, Kendall Buster, Ingrid Calame, Teresita Fernandez, Wayne Gonzalez, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Nicola López, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Jason Middlebrook and Nate Young. 

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An AAM accredited non-collecting museum, Virginia MOCA presents exceptional, locally relevant and nationally resonant exhibitions that invite neighbors, strangers, students, families, communities and cultures to explore our shared humanity through contemporary art, in all of its timeliness, restlessness and beauty.

More information about Virginia MOCA can be found at

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