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Artist Maya Lin's 'Systematic Landscapes' at the Corcoran Have Monumental Scope

"I do think I have this big white elephant right here," she adds, pointing over her shoulder. "Like, 'Oh God, she did that, it's so great. You know, this stuff is crap.' It's going to happen."

After the memorial was built, she went to graduate school in architecture, then designed another high-profile monument, the Civil Rights Memorial (1989) in Montgomery, Ala. Then she branched into the other legs of her creative tripod, the outdoor art and the architecture, while returning to memorials from time to time.

"I was desperately trying to move past the memorial as fast as possible as an artist," she says. "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 the degree that you would need to, so I'm just not interested."

She says it was 15 years before a stranger came up to say he loved one of her pieces without mentioning the memorial.

"It made me so happy," she says. "It's not that I don't love the memorial. 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 be my biggest piece, and I'm very proud of it."

"Now," she says, "I kind of have found a voice and I want to slow down."

She does not approve of the realistic statues that were added near the memorial as compromises to critics.

"They felt abstraction wasn't representative enough," Lin says. "I would always argue, 'What is more representative than a person's name?' "

She declines, however, to say anything about the latest proposed addition, an underground visitors' center that has received preliminary federal approval.

Lin lives in New York with her husband, Daniel Wolf, an art dealer and film producer, and their two daughters.

One night last week she visited the memorial again with her family. She likes to go in the evening, when everything is quiet and there are fewer people.

"It was really magical," she says. "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."

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