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Maya Lin in Chicago: Picture (and Sculpture) Perfect

As much art as there is on view at any given moment in Chicago, it's still rare to find a show that's nearly flawless in its execution. And yet: The two (two!) mentioned here are prime examples of exhibits that live up to the high expectations placed on them months ago, when word of their installations first began circulating. If you have any appreciation whatsoever for contemporary art, make a mental note to see one, or both. Maya Lin at the Arts Club of Chicago Even if Maya Lin's name doesn't ring a bell, one of her earliest works might. Lin was a 21-year-old undergrad at Yale University when, in 1981, she won a public competition for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, located on Washington, D.C.'s National Mall. After earning her masters of architecture at Yale, she went on to design additional memorials and public works of art, and establish a reputable architecture and design studio in New York City. Fortunate for us, Lin has continued to make "indoor" sculpture art in the midst of her busy career. The Arts Club of Chicago's self-titled show is a collection of nine stunning sculptures (and two framed pastel rubbings) spanning the last four years — continuations, we're told, of earlier series, almost a moot point with works this strong. At the root of her work, Lin is obsessed with landscapes and the gentle lines and curves that appear in nature. The newest piece here, "Reversing the Flow" (2010), is constructed of ordinary steel push-pins arranged into a pleasantly meandering pattern. It's raised just so from the white wall on which it's installed, mirroring the path of a river and its surrounding terrain. The smallest details — texture evoked in the patterns of the pins, the resulting shadows, little gleams of light flashing from the metal — help bring this large-scale piece down to earth. It's hard to pick just one favorite, as almost everything here is so thoughtful. Mountains of particle board as tall as a grown man dominate the front room as "Blue Lake Pass" (2006), its 20 blocks of 36-inch square sculptures creating a community. Next door, "Flow" (2009) is the focal point: Spanning a massive 35 by 11 feet along the Arts Club's shiny floor, this rolling hill of pale-colored spruce, pine and fir two-by-fours looks soft enough to lay on. Overlooking "Flow" on each side are more wonders on the walls and floors — raindrops made of blown glass, rivers poured from silver — all of it worth seeing in person. Maya Lin at The Arts Club of Chicago, 201 E. Ontario St., 312-787-3997; artsclubchicago.org. Through April 23
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