As in her work on the Vietnam War Memorial so many years ago, the contemporary pieces of artist Maya Lin hit the emotional nail right on the head. In her exhibition Systematic Landscapes, which is showing now at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, the famous artist remixes topographies and terrains into real, walkable places ready to be explored and dissected by willing spectators. From Bodies of Water, representing landlocked saltwater seas with stacked plywood, to her large wire rendition of the San Francisco Bay Area hanging near the new California Academy of Sciences, her landscape representations combine our scientific tendency to chart landscapes without compromising the wisdom and wonder of studying natural phenomena.

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The central figure for the exhibit is the massive 2 x 4 Landscape, a rolling mound made of an undulating mass of yep, two-by-four pieces of wood. Other works including Water Line, a topographic study of an underwater canyon using quarter-inch aluminum tubes, and Blue Lake Pass, a mountain ridge of sorts, places visitors in real-life versions of what we normally perceive as computer models. With an astonishing level of detail and respect for material, Lin transforms these rigid, systematic aspects of our culture into an object that forces viewers to think about their relationship to the scale and shape of their surroundings.

Not too far, just across the park in fact, Where the Land Meets the Sea hangs outside the west wing of San Francisco’s new California Academy of Sciences. A wired topographic map of the city, the piece is a curvy, steely representation of the ups and downs in elevation that exist in the Bay Area. Hanging aloft cafe chairs and a nearby sculpture garden, the lines seem to turn and run together, like a gleeful stick drawing, if you stare at it head on. At the same time, the entire landscape looms above visitors like some sort of guardian.

Systematic Landscapes at the de Young Museum will be on display until January. Simple and thoughtful, the exhibition manages to apply scientific tools normally used for quantifying or analyzing landscapes to inspire visitors to stand in awe of the landscapes being represented.

+ de Young Museum, San Francisco