Maya Lin Erects a Ghostly Grove of Dead Trees in Manhattan

A new installation by American sculptor Maya Lin, Ghost Forest at Madison Square Park, will confront viewers with the devastating impacts of climate change head-on. Starting on May 10 and on view through the fall, visitors to the public square in Manhattan will be able to walk among a thicket of some 50 towering dead trees, each standing 40 feet high.

The stark contrast between the green, lush urban oasis and the haunting grove of spectral trees will serve as a “grave reminder of the consequences of inaction to the climate crisis,” said the park’s deputy director Brooke Kamin Rapaport in a statement.

The work’s title refers to the disappearance of forestland due to extreme weather, sea-level rise, and other consequences of global warming, leaving vast areas of dead trees or “ghost forests.” The imposing Atlantic white cedars used in Lin’s work were sourced from a restoration project in  New Jersey’s Pine Barrens.

The installation of Maya Lin’s Ghost Forest in process at Madison Square Park, 2021 (photo by Andy Romer; courtesy the artist and Madison Square Park Conservancy)

“As I approached thinking about a sculptural installation for Madison Square Park, I knew I wanted to create something that would be intimately related to the Park itself, the trees, and the state of the earth,” Lin said.

Fearing that bringing in plants killed by pests would introduce new and dangerous species into the city, Lin focused instead on finding trees that had been victims of extreme weather. The ecosystem of Pine Barrens, the largest contiguous forest on the East Coast, is increasingly threatened by hotter temperatures, erratic precipitation patterns, and wildfires.

“Foresters we are working with located an area that was about to be cleared as part of a restoration project on private lands,” Lin explained. “The homeowner has chosen to clear the dead or compromised cedars to allow for the regeneration of the trees since cedars need open light to repopulate.”

Maya Lin, preparatory sketch for Ghost Forest (2019) (courtesy the artist and Pace Gallery)

The work will be accompanied by a soundscape composed by Lin with the help of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which features the sounds, calls, and songs of endangered animals that once thrived in New York City. To mark the end of the project, the artist and her collaborators will plant 1,000 native trees and shrubs in public parks across the five boroughs. The installation will remain on view through November 14, 2021.

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