Maya Lin Debuts Final Memorial at California Academy of Sciences

Media Contacts:
Kate Patterson, San Francisco Arts Commission
Tel: 415/252-4638 Email:

Helen Taylor, California Academy of Sciences
Tel: 415/379-5128 Email:

Click here for HIGH RES IMAGES, and for the full press kit, click on the links below:

  • Press Release
  • Fact Sheet
  • Maya Lin Biography
  • San Francisco Arts Commission Backgrounder
  • California Academy of Sciences Backgrounder
    Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 9 a.m.

    Maya Lin’s First Multimedia Artwork, What is Missing?, Raises Awareness about the
    Current Environmental Crisis

    SAN FRANCISCO, September 17, 2009 – Today, San Francisco Arts Commission (“SFAC”) President P.J. Johnston and Executive Director of the California Academy of Sciences Dr.

    What is Missing? by Maya Lin. Photo: Bruce Damonte

    What is Missing? by Maya Lin. Photo: Bruce Damonte

    Gregory Farrington will dedicate a new permanent sculpture, entitled What is Missing?, by world-renowned artist Maya Lin. The sculpture is part of Lin’s last memorial and is the international debut of the first component of a multi-sited, multimedia artwork dedicated to raising awareness about the current crisis surrounding biodiversity and habitat loss. Rethinking the traditional stationary monument, What is Missing? is a memorial that will exist in several media and in multiple places simultaneously. The permanent site-specific What is Missing? sculpture, installed at the Academy’s East Terrace, is part of a larger commission awarded to the artist by the Arts Commission that includes Where the Land Meets the Sea, which was unveiled last September to correspond with the opening of the Academy’s new facility designed by architect Renzo Piano. The dedication of What is Missing? coincides with the Academy’s one-year anniversary in the new building. The Academy is the only institution in the world to house two permanent sculptures—an artwork and a memorial—by Lin.

    Press Preview: Today, September 17, 9-10:30 a.m. at the California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Drive, San Francisco, CA.

    What is Missing? is a poignant reminder of what we stand to lose if the crisis surrounding biodiversity and habitat loss continues,” said Mayor Newsom. “Maya Lin’s sculpture shows what is at stake and why reducing our environmental impact is one of our most urgent challenges. By making significant changes in our daily lives, such as driving less, recycling more or supporting sustainable food production, we can stem global warming and protect endangered species for generations to come.”

    The permanent What is Missing? sculpture consists of a 8’6″h x 10’8″w x 19’2″l bronze “Listening Cone” lined with reclaimed wood. A 2′ 4 ¼”h x 4’6″w screen, located within the cone, features more than 20 minutes of compelling video footage that links extinct as well as threatened and endangered species to the habitats and ecosystems that are vital to their survival. The featured species, which include the tuna, dodo bird, monarch butterfly, golden toad, and others, were selected because they are either already extinct or will most likely disappear in our lifetime. The video footage is overlayed with text describing the decline of the featured species and the alarming degradation of their habitats. The text connects the viewer to the main causes of extinction—direct harvesting, non-sustainable hunting and fishing practices, the introduction of non-native species, habitat destruction and global climate change.

    A dedicated environmentalist, Lin has been committed to focusing attention on the natural world throughout her career, and has incorporated sustainable and recycled materials into many of her artworks. “What is Missing? is both a wake-up call and a call to action,” says Lin. “Underscoring the Academy’s drive to protect the natural world through education and research, the work shows what is being done by research and conservation organizations to address the crisis, as well as what individuals can do in their everyday lives to make a difference. I believe that art, at times, can look at a subject differently, and in doing so can get people to pay closer attention.”

    “Maya Lin’s sculpture blends art and activism by providing a tangible, aesthetic experience that articulates her environmental mission and engages the public in a dialogue about critical ecological issues,” stated Luis R. Cancel, Director of Cultural Affairs for the SFAC. “The dedication of What is Missing? marks an incredible achievement for the Arts Commission’s 40-year-old Public Art Program. With the sculpture’s addition to the Civic Art Collection, San Francisco will be home not only to Lin’s last public memorial, but also her first multimedia artwork.”

    What is Missing? by Maya Lin. Photo: Bruce Damonte

    What is Missing? by Maya Lin. Photo: Bruce Damonte

    Lin spent years researching the subject matter for the project and developing the appropriate visual expression for the work. Throughout the project, she received support from numerous organizations around the country, including the California Academy of Sciences, as well as Conservation International, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Geographic Society, and ARKive, who donated the video and audio recordings. Panthera, National Resources Defense Council, The Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Society and World Wildlife Fund, among others, contributed research assistance. The media illustrates the alarming depletion of animals and places from our lives—from the sheer abundance of species to the loss of migratory corridors, from the diminished visibility of the stars at night to the vanishing sounds of songbirds.

    The setting for What is Missing? is in itself a part of the memorial’s story. Scientists at the California Academy of Sciences have been exploring and documenting biodiversity for more than 155 years, and the museum’s exhibits highlight some of the planet’s most unusual and endangered life forms. “What is Missing? reflects the Academy’s mission to explore, explain and protect the natural world,” says Greg Farrington, Executive Director of the California Academy of Sciences. “The memorial is a wonderful complement to the research and education underway at the Academy. Along with Lin’s Where the Land Meets the Sea, it will help engage people with the question of how we will sustain life on Earth, a theme that runs throughout the institution.”

    In developing What is Missing?, Lin spent multiple visits over a 4-year period talking with Academy researchers about the stories behind various extinctions and dwindling populations. Several of the fragile locales that were selected have been destinations for Academy research expeditions for decades. Data collected on such expeditions is used to better understand historical and existing levels of biodiversity, and to model future scenarios. The Academy’s Center for Biodiversity Research is developing high-resolution maps to do just that, projecting the future ranges of key species under different climate scenarios on a ten by ten kilometer grid. These maps, and other Academy research projects, are providing some of the first actionable data for conservation managers who must now plan for the impact of global climate change.

    The second component of the What is Missing? memorial is a traveling dark room with projected images and sounds from a variety of endangered species. Visitors are encouraged to navigate through the space with translucent screens that capture images and brief statements when held over the floor projections. This portion of the project will debut at the Beijing Center for the Arts on September 19 during their Shan Shui exhibition. The United States debut of the dark room component will take place at the Storm King Art Center during Climate Week NYC (September 21-25). Subsequent site-specific installations, including a video that will appear on MTV’s electronic billboard in Times Square sponsored by Creative Time, and the What is Missing? website will launch around Earth Day 2010.

    For this Arts Commission project, Maya Lin was selected from a candidate pool of 25 artists by a joint committee composed of representatives from the California Academy of Sciences, the Arts Commission, local museum curators and the Music Concourse Citizens’ Advisory Committee. The committee representatives were appointed to oversee the development of the public art program for the new Academy. Lin was chosen through a rigorous process concluding with an interview with the Advisory Committee. Although the California Academy of Sciences is a private nonprofit institution, its buildings occupy City property and a portion of the construction cost of the new building was funded with General Obligation Bonds. For this reason, the City’s Art Enrichment Ordinance was applicable and provided the funding for the project and the project was arranged by the San Francisco Arts Commission.

    What is Missing? was made possible by the Public Art Program of the San Francisco Arts Commission, the California Academy of Sciences and Webcor, with additional support from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, The Betsy and Jesse Fink Foundation, Creative Time, ARKive, World Wildlife Fund, Wildlife Conservation Society, The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, IUCN, The National Geographic Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Oceana, Panthera, The Rockefeller Foundation, and Van Alen Institute.

    Maya Lin shares her inspiration for What is Missing? on this episode of Culture Wire.

    About the San Francisco Arts Commission and the Public Art Program
    Established by charter in 1932, the San Francisco Arts Commission is the City agency that champions the arts in San Francisco. Led by the belief that a creative cultural environment is essential to the City’s well-being, the Arts Commission programs permeate all aspects of city life from the murals and monuments under the care of the Civic Art Collection to the dance and theatre productions funded by Cultural Equity Grants, to the new generation of teen poets cultivated by the WritersCorps program. Other projects include: Civic Art Collection, Civic Design Review, Community Arts & Education, Cultural Equity Grants, Public Art, SFAC Gallery, Street Artist Licensing, and Summer and the Symphony Concert Series. Visit our website at for more information.

    The Arts Commission’s Public Art Program was established by the City Arts Enrichment Ordinance in 1969, as one of the first of its kind in the country. The Public Art Program seeks to promote a diverse and stimulating cultural environment to enrich the lives of the city’s residents, visitors and employees. The Program encourages the creative interaction of artists, designers, City staff, officials and community members during the design of City projects in order to develop public art that is specific to the site and meaningful to the community.

    About the California Academy of Sciences
    Founded in 1853, the California Academy of Sciences is one of the world’s leading scientific and cultural institutions, home to an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum, and world-class research and education programs. The Academy has a staff of over 50 professional educators and Ph.D.-level scientists, supported by more than 100 Research and Field Associates and over 300 Fellows. It conducts research in eleven scientific fields: anthropology, aquatic biology, botany, comparative genomics, entomology, geology, herpetology, ichthyology, invertebrate zoology, mammalogy and ornithology.

    On September 27, 2008, the Academy opened the doors to its new building in Golden Gate Park. Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano, the facility received a LEED Platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council for its environmentally-sensitive design. Exhibit highlights include a four-story living rainforest, an awe-inspiring coral reef ecosystem, and interactive space shows that transport audiences beyond the boundaries of our planet. Visit for more information.

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