Maya Lin brings into focus the ravages of climate change with ‘Ghost Forest’

Photo: Andy Romer

As part of its public art commissioning program, Madison Square Park Conservancy recently opened a site-specific installation by Maya Lin that brings into focus the ravages of climate change on woodlands around the world. Ghost
Forest takes the form of a towering grove of spectral cedar trees, all sourced from the region and presented in sharp contrast to the park’s lush tree line. The installation builds on Lin’s practice of addressing species loss, habitat loss, and climate change within her work and serves as a call to action to the thousands of visitors who pass through the park daily.

Image Credit: Maya Lin Studio

Originally planned for summer 2020, the exhibition is on view through November 14, 2021. A series of virtual public events as well as in-person, socially distanced programs at the park complement the installation. These include a new soundscape composed by Lin in collaboration with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that weaves together the calls and songs of some of the native animal species once common to Manhattan. Lectures on climate change with leading specialists are being held in collaboration with Fotografiska New York and meditative music performances, curated by Carnegie Hall and inspired by nature, are being within the installation throughout the summer. The project culminates in the fall with the planting of 1,000 native trees and shrubs in public natural area parks throughout each of New
York City’s five boroughs, a partnership with Natural Areas Conservancy.

The Conservancy is also dedicating its annual public art symposium to exploring key issues raised by Ghost Forest. Held on June 4, the dynamic virtual event Greening Public Art is anchored by a keynote conversation with Maya Lin, Maria Rodale of the Rodale Institute, and Bill Ulfelder of The Nature Conservancy in New York, moderated by Andrew Revkin of Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

Photo: Andy Romer


Ghost Forest derives its name from the eponymous natural phenomenon: vast tracts of forestland that have died off due to extreme weather events related to climate change as well as sea-level rise and saltwater infiltration. To create the installation, Lin worked together with the Conservancy to source dead trees from a restoration project in the Pine Barrens in New Jersey, a vulnerable site that has suffered severe deprivation. Atlantic white cedars were once plentiful on the East Coast, but their population has dwindled to below 50,000 acres because of historic forestry practices as well as the threats posed from climate change. The 49 cedar trees installed in the park were all slated to be cleared as part of regeneration efforts. In the park, visitors will be able to wander through the trees, which are organically interspersed in a dense cluster and stand 40 to 45 feet high. The installation brings the dire reality of this
phenomenon to audiences in a dense urban environment and encourages a consideration of nature-based practices that can protect and restore the ecosystem.

Photo: Andy Romer

“As one of New York’s beloved public greenspaces, the Conservancy is committed to advancing environmental stewardship at the park through our mission and program. We are honored to be collaborating with Maya Lin to realize this powerful new commission that will heighten awareness of the realities of climate change and of urgent environmental issues that affect us all,” added the Conservancy’s Executive Director Keats Myer.

Maya Lin: Ghost Forest

Dates: May 10 – November 14, 2021

Find out more and listen to the Soundscape and Audio tour on the Madison Square Park Conservancy

Text: Madison Square Park Conservancy