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Vietnam Veterans Memorial designer’s Wexner Center exhibit restored, celebrating 20 years

Andrew Collins / For The Lantern

The Wexner Center for the Arts recently celebrated the restoration and 20-year anniversary of the outdoor exhibit “Groundswell” by Maya Lin.

Lin, originally from Athens, Ohio, is an artist, architect and memorial-creator who is perhaps most famous for designing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. She came back to the Wexner Center over the weekend to help finish and celebrate the restoration of “Groundswell.” The work is comprised of 43 tons of recycled windshield safety glass arranged into hills.

After finishing the restoration of the piece, Lin gave a talk to a packed house Sunday at the Mershon Auditorium. Her talk touched on subjects ranging from her art to how she merges it with nature and ended with a call to help conserve and protect the planet. 

“Groundswell” was in much need of some tender loving care, said Patrick Weber, senior exhibitions preparator at the Wexner Center who oversaw the restoration of the project. 

It sits outdoors on three levels and two of those are the rooftops of rooms inside the building. It was built in 1993 and temporarily removed from its site in 2003 or 2004, Weber said, to allow for maintenance on the rooms below. The method used to remove the material was hydrovacing, which Weber said used tubes to suck up the material and hold it in containers. This process broke down some of the glass into a sandy substance.

“When we reinstalled it in 2005 we noticed the consistency of the materials was not what it once was and there was a lot of sandy, dusty, broken-down material in the actual glass,” he said. 

The staff at the Wexner Center decided to do a complete restoration on the project, but there were issues with using the original material as Lin wanted to do. Weber said he and others worked to find a company to both sift the sandy substance from the glass and clean the usable material at the same time. The piece was removed again in late January and reinstalled Friday, Saturday and Sunday with about eight people working to complete it, with the help of a crane operator to dump the glass into place and traffic control to direct cars around the crane which closed off the east lane of College Road.

Lin said it’s hard to believe how long it has been since the piece was first installed.

“I didn’t realize it’s been 20 years,” she said. “They said 1993 and I said a decade – no, not quite.” 

She said while the restoration is mostly complete, it still requires some upkeep. Weber said the natural elements are one of the largest issues with maintaining the piece.

“I think the biggest challenge is just from the side of Mother Nature,” he said, adding that other obstacles do tend to pop up in the work around football season. “Occasionally people for whatever reason want to get a closer look and they jump down in there.”

The work is supposed to be reminiscent of both the Indian mounds of southern Ohio and a Zen garden.

“I do think I live between states at times – science and art, East and West, art and architecture,” Lin said while describing her work.

Since “Groundswell” is outside and moveable, Lin said it needs frequent care.

“I would recommend the next generation give it a bath every decade, not every two decades,” she said.

Weber said they do have routine maintenance such as removing debris, but after the removal and restoration this time they have new plans for future upkeep, which include washing the glass regularly with water and an ecologically friendly cleaner.

He said he hopes not to have to remove it again, but plans have been made for if it must be done, including documenting the restoration to see how it should be redone.

Weber said he expects “Groundswell” to bring new and old visitors to the Wexner Center.

“New students and people like that may not even know that it’s there, so hopefully this whole event of restoring it will bring some new renewed focus onto it,” he said.

Some students agree the restoration has helped.

“I actually saw it this morning, it looks a lot better. It used to be like all flat and now it’s pointed and clean,” said Dominique Raymond, a second-year in landscape architecture.

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