Biographical / Historical
Nancy Holt (1938-2014) was an environmental and installation artist, sculptor, filmmaker, and photographer, based in New York, New York. She was best known for her large-scale public land art installations including her seminal work Sun Tunnels (1973-1976) located in the Great Basin Desert, Utah. Her work engaged with the natural environment and the celestial realm, tracing the rotation of the earth and the movement of the sun and stars. Holt was also fascinated by mechanical systems such as those used for heating, drainage, and ventilation, and her functional sculptural installations explored the relationship between architecture and the built environment.
Holt was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, grew up in New Jersey, and graduated from Tufts University in 1960 with a degree in biology. She moved to New York City later that year where she met the artist Robert Smithson, to whom she was married from 1963 until Smithson's death in 1973.
Holt's landmark work Sun Tunnels was executed in 1973-1976 in Utah's Great Basin Desert, where Holt and Smithson had purchased surrounding land specifically to ensure an unimpeded view of the horizon. Holt went on to produce many site-specific outdoor works including 30 Below (1980), Dark Star Park (1984), Solar Rotary (1995), and Up and Under (1998). Her exploration of what she termed Systems Works included Catch Basin (1982), Flow Ace Heating (1985), and Spinwinder (1991).
Holt's photography was essential in the development of her ideas. In Missouri Ranch Locators: Vision Encompassed (1972) she used photography in her development of "seeing devices," creating eye-level steel pipes to direct viewers to a specific site in the surrounding landscape, and developing a concept that was central to Sun Tunnels and other works. Her book Ransacked, Aunt Ethel: An Ending (1980) documented through text and photographs the abuse and theft her aunt was subjected to at the end of her life. In Time Outs (1985) Holt used photographs of football games taken from a television screen to create a book born out of her childhood love of TV sporting events.
Holt's work can be found in the collections of major institutions including the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, and the Museum für Gegenswartkunst, Germany. Her permanent installations can be found at public institutions including Miami University Art Museum, Southern Connecticut State University, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, Western Washington University, and University of South Florida.
In 2012 Nancy Holt was made a Chevalier of the of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government. In 2013 she was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the International Sculpture Center in New York. Holt received five National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, two New York Creative Artist Fellowships, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and an Honorary Doctorate from the University of South Florida, Tampa.
Holt lived in Galisteo, New Mexico, from 1995-2013. She died in New York City in 2014.