to make people conscious of the cyclical time of the universe
December 14, 2018 2:20 PM   Subscribe

Nancy Holt (1938-2014) was an American artist. Over the course of five decades, her work encompassed films, videos, photography, audio works, concrete poetry, and artists’ books, but Holt is best known for her large-scale, public art installations.

Missoula Ranch Locators: Vision Encompassed (1972, Missoula, Montana) was a series of locators (viewfinders) arranged on an open plain. Visitors using the devices were offered discrete, framed snippets of the vast landscape. This artwork was re-created as a permanent installation in 2012 on the campus of France’s University of Avignon.

Sun Tunnels (1973–76, Great Basin Desert, Utah) is a series of four giant, concrete tubes. The tubes are in the four cardinal directions, and have perforations drilled along the top of each structure in the shape of constellations. The open, central hub formed by the tubes perfectly frame viewpoints for the annual solstices, and the shadows cast by the perforations put the stars beneath one’s feet. Holt purchased the site before beginning construction, and maintained the installation; this artwork is now part of the Dia Art Foundation’s collection.

Dark Star Park (1979–84, Arlington, Virginia), is a both a commissioned art installation and a public park, in the Rosslyn neighborhood of Arlington. Large concrete spheres (representing fallen stars), poles, tunnels, and circular pools are sited on the grounds, along with permanently-etched shadow-images. On the first of August every year, at 9:32 a.m., Holt’s sculptures cast real shadows which map to the inset images, in commemoration of William Henry Ross's purchase of the land that would become Rosslyn. Per the artist, this work melds “historical time with the cyclical time of the sun.”

Stone Enclosure: Rock Rings (1978, Bellingham, Washington): Like Sun Tunnels, Holt’s installation on the campus of Western Washington University is a compass rose as well as an observatory, although this earthwork aligns with Polaris rather than the sun.

Pipeline (1986, Anchorage, Alaska) is one example of Holt’s interest in environmental issues. A temporary installation at an Alaskan gallery, and made of the same materials as the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, this work originated as steel tubing outside the museum, which then snaked inside to drip oil on the formerly-spotless floors at regular, timed intervals.

While the installations are well-documented via photographs (which Holt called “memory traces”), the artist maintained the work was only complete through direct experience.

In the late 1960s and into the 1970s, many of the iconic works of the Land Art movement were first filmed and photographed by Nancy Holt. 2015’s Troublemakers, The Story of Land Art, incorporates some of this documentarian work.

Part of Holt’s lifework was preserving the legacy of her husband, fellow artist Robert Smithson (1938-1973). Holt edited the first publication of Smithson’s collected writing, and eventually co-edited the re-issued edition. Smithson’s Amarillo Ramp project, unfinished at the time of his death, was completed in a joint effort by Holt, Richard Serra, and Tony Shafrazi. In 1999, Holt arranged the Dia Art Foundation’s acquisition of Spiral Jetty, Smithson’s major work, as a gift from his estate; in 2008, when the massive earthwork was threatened by oil drilling, she worked with Dia and other preservationists and successfully protected the iconic sculpture.

The Holt-Smithson Foundation, founded in 2017, documents the couple’s early collaborations as well as their individual career achievements. The University of Avignon (site of the 2012 ceremony where Holt was conferred as a Knight in the Order of the Arts & Letters) hosts Nancy Holt: Sightlines, published by the University of California Press in 2011, is a retrospective of the artist’s work.

Through March 9, Nancy Holt’s room-sized light installations Holes of Light (1973) and Mirrors of Light I (1974) are on display at Dia:Chelsea. Two works from the Locator series, Dual Locators and Locator with Spotlight and Sunlight, from 1972, are also on view.

"I have a strong desire to make people conscious of the cyclical time of the universe." – Nancy Holt.
posted by Iris Gambol (2 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
She was great. I would very much like to visit Sun Tunnels, which I first heard about in art history classes in .... 1993? A sculptor prof pal and I have a fantasy of taking a spring-break travel course out to the southwest to see some of these things-- hers, and Smithson, and Heizer, etc. Sort of demi-gods in my undergrad art days.
Thanks for this post-- good stuff.
posted by Capybara at 6:27 PM on December 15, 2018

I found her work very inspiring when I studied - I liked that Nancy often worked with raw industrial materials and did only as much as necessary for a given effect. Very spare, elegant and involving.

Thanks so much for posting this Iris Gambol
posted by unearthed at 1:14 AM on December 20, 2018

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