Lawrence Toppman

Maya Lin’s glass at the Mint reminded me of a furor long ago

Remember Maya Lin? Her “Dew Point 18,” which is in the Mint Museum’s wonderful “Fired Up: Women in Glass” exhibit, will remind you of the controversial “Topo” she installed at the old Charlotte Coliseum off Tyvola Road.
Remember Maya Lin? Her “Dew Point 18,” which is in the Mint Museum’s wonderful “Fired Up: Women in Glass” exhibit, will remind you of the controversial “Topo” she installed at the old Charlotte Coliseum off Tyvola Road.

So I’m walking through the extraordinary “Fired Up: Women in Glass” exhibit at the Mint Museum, which I discovered at the uptown branch just 10 days before it’s due to close (Feb. 26).

I am marveling at glass that looks dangerous and seductive, delicate and durable, even glass that doesn’t look like glass at all. I come to a piece by Maya Lin called “Dew Point 18,” and my mind flashes back to the most controversial piece of Charlotte art of the 1990s: “Topo,” bushes and oak trees that cost the city $340,000 to commission and install.

Lin’s a serious artist. “Dew Point 18” treats glass like water, as if the 18 bubbles had crystallized at the point dew forms; it reflects the world around itself and starts you reflecting, too. She first gained national recognition for designing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, seen in the Oscar-winning documentary “Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision.”

But she’s most (in)famous locally for “Topo,” which featured contoured earth, large spheres made from pruned holly bushes and flanking oak trees on the 60-foot-wide median running from the old Charlotte Coliseum down to Tyvola Road.

She told about 40 people at the 1991 dedication that she wanted a piece that used natural materials and fit into the site, and she stressed that this organic piece would change over time. (The oak trees needed 30 years to reach maturity and arch over the road.) When told the holly bushes did not appear to be rolling downhill as intended, Lin said that would take time and pruning: “Give it another one or two prunings before they become legible as spheres.”

Alas, the piece was destroyed long before three decades passed. The company that developed the site after the city sold it left the oak trees but uprooted the bushes in 2008. The bushes proved too large to transport and replant successfully, and suggestions for relocation found no takers.

Toppman: 704-358-5232

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