The following page is dedicated to available information found on the following artist by students of the Environmental Art class at Ball State. The information is as accurate as can be given available resources. Any additions should be sent to the address below.
Nancy Louise Holt was born on April 5, 1938, in Worcester, Massachusetts. She is the wife of fellow environmental artist, Robert Smithson. Holt began her career as a photographer and video artist.
Jackson College, Tufts University, 1956-60: B.S., 1960
Art Center, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, 1972
Art Gallery, University of Montana, Missoula, 1972
Lo Giudice Gallery, New York, 1973
Bykert Gallery, New York, 1974
Water Kelly Gallery, Chicago, 1974
Franklin Furnace, New York, 1977
Whitney Museum Young American Filmmakers Series, New York, 1977
John Weber Gallery, New York, 1979, 82, 84, 86, 93
Flow Ace Gallery, Los Angeles, 1985
Bykert Gallery, New York, 1974; with Gary Stephan and Joe Zucker
The Clocktower, New York, 1974; with Dennis Oppenheim
"Collector's Video," Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1974
"Interventions in Landscape," Hayden Gallery, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, 1974
"Response to the Environment," Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1975
"Video '75," The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 1975
"Art in Landscape," traveling exhibition organized by Independent Curators, Inc., Washington, DC, 1976
"Biennial Exhibition," Whitney Museum of Art, New York, 1977
Buried Poems, 1969-71
Missoula Ranch Locators, University of Montana, Missoula, 1972
Views Through a Sand Dune, Narragansett Beach, Rhode Island, 1972
Locator with Sunlight and Spotlight, gallery piece, 1973
Sun Tunnels, Great Basin Desert, Utah, 1973-76
Hydra's Head, Artpark, Lewiston, New York, 1974
Stone Enclosure: Rock Rings, Western Washington University, Bellingham, 1977-78
Wild Spot, Wellesley College, Massachusetts, 1979-80
Star-Crossed, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, 1979-81
Dark Star Park, Arlington, Virginia, 1979-84
Inside/ Outside, Washington, DC, 1980
Thirty Below, Lake Placid, New York, 1980
Annual Ring, Saginaw, Michigan, 1981
Time Span, Laguna Gloria Art Museum, Austin, Texas, 1981
Catch Basin, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 1982
Sole Source, Dublin, Ireland, 1983
Waterwork, Gallaudet College, Washington, 1984
End of the Line/ West Rock, Southern Connecticut State University, New Haven, 1985
Pipeline and Starfire, Anchorage, 1986
Astral Grating, New York, 1987
Sky Mound, Hackensack, New Jersey, 1988-
Spinwinder, Southeastern Massachusetts University, 1991
Ventilation III: Finn Air, Tampere Museum, Finland, 1992
Ventilation IV: Hampton Air, Guild Hall Museum Easthampton, New York, 1992
Solar Rotary, University of Southern Florida, 1995
FILMS AND VIDEOTAPES
V-T East Coast, West Coast, 1969 (20 minutes); with Robert Smithson
Pine Barrens, 1971 (32 minutes)
Swamp, 1971 (6 minutes); with Robert Smithson
Locating #1 and #2, 1972
film of Niagara Falls, 1975
Sun Tunnels, 1978 (26 minutes)
Art in the Public Eye: The Making of Dark Star Park, 1988 (33 minutes)
"Ransacked", 1980 (38 pages)
"Time Outs", 1985
University of Montana, Artist in Residence, 1972
Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, Instructor, 1976
Creative Artists Public Service Grant, New York, 1975
CAPS Grant, 1975, 78
National Endowment for the Arts Grant, Washington, DC, 1975, 78, 83, 85, 88
Beard's Fund Inc. Grant, 1977
WNET Artist in Residence Grant, 1977
Guggenheim fellowship, 1978
Using the sun and other stars as her subjects, and the raw, elemental quality of Holt's projects have been compared to creations by ancient civilizations of Sumer, Egypt, and Maya. Alignments with the North Star and other circular forms echo primitive instruments which measured the position of Earth in relation to the fixed universe. Tired of purely aesthetic works, she strives to make hers more functional. Holt says she is, "not interested in creating artworks that rejuvenate the landscape because... such works cosmetically camouflage the abuse."
Holt likes to create large scale, outdoor, site-specific sculpture which normally involves viewing cosmic events at specific times. She always considers the existing topography, built environment, and local materials, along with the psychology, sociology, and history of each site. The cylindrical forms resembling telescopes or lenses and the framing or isolating of different views are all influenced by Holt's love of photography and the camera. The materials she uses blend into the sites leading one to believe they have always been there. Structures are always roofless-- open to the sky and the horizon. Focal points actively penetrate the landscape. The viewer can usually enter the forms to become the focal point of a piece and explore himself in relation to the vast environment.
SELECTED PROJECTS BY NANCY HOLT:
BURIED POEMS (1969-71)
LOCATION: places such as an unnamed, uninhabited island in the Florida Keys, Arches National Monument Desert in Utah, and at the bottom of the Highlands of Navesink near Sandy Hook, New Jersey.
Holt gave five people (Michael Heizer, Philip Leider, Carl Andre, John Perrault, and Robert Smithson) a packet of information which allowed them to find and dig up a poem. Each poem was buried in a location which was chosen based on their personality. Included in the packet were such items as maps, photos, very detailed directions for finding the poem, along with either postcards, cut out images, and maybe specimens of leaves or rocks from the site. The recipient would eventually understand his connection with the site. The poems were all buried in vacuum containers which would last long enough for them to dig it up whenever they happened to be near the area.
MISSOULA RANCH LOCATORS (1972)
LOCATION: University of Montana, Missoula.
Eight steel pipe locators, forming a 40' diameter circle, face each other in a field. They are roughly aligned with the compass points and the four intermediary positions. Each locator consists of a 12" long, 2" diameter galvanized steel pipe, welded perpendicularly to a vertical steel pipe at approximately eye level. Those looking inward through the viewers observe the same landscape allowing "each individual to have the singular experience of his own perception." Looking outward, eight distinct views including a mountain, a tree, a flat plain, and a ranch house can be seen around the circle.
VIEWS THROUGH A SAND DUNE (1972)
LOCATION: on the coast of Narragansett, Rhode Island.
The peninsula is flanked by the Atlantic Ocean and the Narragansett River. A concrete pipe, 5 1/2' long and 8" in diameter, is embedded at eye level in an irregularly sloping sand dune. This gives the viewer a limited vision of sand, water, sky, and sun, exposing views that the dune previously hid. It is very strongly focused but strangely detached from the remaining site.
LOCATOR WITH SUNLIGHT AND SPOTLIGHT (1973)
LOCATION: a gallery piece, location unknown.
This indoor piece involved the projection of a spotlight and sunlight onto two separate walls. A T- shaped pipe stood between the two lights, each end offering a view of one of the two ovals of light.
SUN TUNNELS (1973-76)
LOCATION: four miles Southeast of Lucin, Utah, on the western edge of the Great Salt Lake Desert.
The site consists of forty acres of a broad, flat, sparsely vegetated valley with saline soil. Chosen and bought by the artist, the site allows for unobstructed views in all directions. It was once the bottom of Lake Bonneville, an ancient lake that gradually disappeared over thousands of years.
Sun Tunnels consists of four concrete cylinders placed in an open "X" configuration with 86' long diagonals and 50' between opposing pairs of pipes. Each pipe is 7 1/4" thick, 18' long, with an outside diameter of 9' 2 1/2", an inside diameter of 8', and weighs 22 tons. Casted in concrete on steel skeletons, the pipes were custom-made at the U.S. Pipe Company in Pleasant Grove, Utah. They rest on virtually hidden concrete foundations which were cast in place.
The cylinders align with the angles of the sun rising and setting during the summer and winter solstices (around June 21 and December 21). At winter solstice, and about ten days before and after, the sun rises in the pipes facing SE and NW, and is visible through the two pipes facing SW and NE at sunset. During summer solstice, and about ten days before and after, the same alignment of sun and pipe is observed in the pipes facing NE and SW at sunrise and the NW and SE pipes at sunset.
Each tunnel also has holes cut into it in the exact configuration of one of four constellations. The SW-facing pipe corresponds to Capricorn, NW to Draco, NE to Perseus, and the SE pipe to
Columbia. The holes are variously 7, 8, 9, and 10 inches in diameter, relative to the magnitude of the star to which each corresponds. During the day and periods of bright moonlight, light is cast in the configurations of the four constellations on the insides of the pipes.
Only within Sun Tunnels is the vastness of the desert brought back to human scale. It is not only more comfortable and less overwhelming inside the cylinders, but it is the only way to escape the harsh sunlight since the surrounding concrete keeps the temperature lower.
The project was made possible with the help of Les Fishbone (an astrophysicist at the University of Utah), Harold Stiles (a surveyor), and 31 others ranging from a road grader to truck drivers. Fishbone determined that the pipes would need to face about 32 degrees north or south of true east and west. Final adjustments and placement of the pipes were determined with the help of Stiles, taking into consideration the mountains on the horizon line.
Holt explains her creation as when, "Day is turned into night, and an inversion of the sky takes place: stars are cast down to Earth, spots of warmth in cool tunnels."
HYDRA'S HEAD (1974)
LOCATION: Artpark in Lewiston, New York, along the Niagara River.
Six circular pipes, varying from two to four feet in diameter, are inserted three feet into the soil and are level with the ground. They are filled with water and placed in the configuration of the head of the constellation Hydra.
STONE ENCLOSURE: ROCK RINGS (1977-78)
LOCATION: a secluded site on the south edge of the Western Washington University campus in Bellingham, Washington.
The $39,000 project consists of two circular concentric stone walls with round windows and arched entryways. The twelve circular windows, 3' 4" in diameter and centered at eye level, provide framed views of trees, meadows, and buildings. The four arches, 8' high and 4 1/2' wide, are aligned N/S by the North Star.
The walls are both two feet thick and ten feet high. The outside diameter of the inner ring is twenty feet and the outer ring is forty feet. They were constructed out of schist stone, concrete, and mortar. The stone has a reflective character and is basically cool gray-blue in the shade and a warm brown in the sun. It is massive, creating a strong sense of permanence.
SUN TUNNELS (1978)
This 26-minute, 16mm, color film, also on videotape, uses time lapse photography to show the shifting patterns of sunlight on a summer day and the rising and setting of the sun through Sun Tunnels.
WILD SPOT (1979-80)
LOCATION: on the campus of Wellesley College in Massachusetts.
It is composed of two rings of steel fencing. The outer ring is broken to provide access into the piece. The inner ring is continuous, enclosing a patch of indigenous flowers.
LOCATION: Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in one of the few places where magnetic and astronomical north are aligned.
A small concrete tunnel aligned north-south crosses a larger pipe aligned east-west. The smaller tunnel looks into an oval reflecting pond. When entering the large tunnel and viewing the pond through the smaller tunnel, it appears perfectly round. It is supposed to reflect a celestial vision by inverting the viewer's perceptual experience and emphasizing mankind's relationship with the heaven's.
DARK STAR PARK (1979-1984)
LOCATION: Arlington County, just outside Washington, in Rosslyn, Virginia.
Dark Star Park was commissioned in conjunction with an urban-renewal project. It is built on an old trash-filled parking lot covering 2/3 acre, serving as a buffer from the surrounding commercial development. It includes several large gunite spheres (some in ponds), sculptural pole-like elements, grass berms, and meandering paths. The park provides seating for workers of nearby office buildings, acting as an escape from the surrounding traffic.
The spheres represent stars which were once very brightly lit but now have fallen to Earth. Shadows cast by two of the spheres and four adjacent poles align with permanent asphalt shadow patterns on the ground at 9:32 AM on August 1 of each year. This commemorates the day in 1860 when William Ross bought the land that later became the section of Arlington known as Rosslyn. This day is known as "Dark Star Day."
For Dark Star Park, Holt was commissioned as both a sculptor and a landscape designer.
THIRTY BELOW (1980)
LOCATION: Lake Placid, New York.
This project was commissioned for the thirteenth Olympic Winter Games held in 1980. It is made up of red brick, steel, concrete, and concrete block. It is an open-ended tower rising 30' with a diameter of 9' 4". Two 10' arches on a north-south axis allow entry at ground level. Four similar 8' openings all face the cardinal points. Low berms at the east and west sides lead up to two of the slotted windows that look into and through the piece.
"Ransacked, Aunt Ethel: An Ending" is a short book of 38 pages consisting of two main parts. The first part is a collection of photographs showing the destroyed interior of her deceased aunt's house. This is accompanied by text of the aunt's story of the last moments of her life before she died of cancer, supposedly tyrannized by her nurse who wished to kill her. The second part of "Ransacked" contains reproduced letters, old family photos, a check, a birth certificate, a copy of an inquest, and burial photos which act as documentation for the first half of the book.
ANNUAL RING (1981)
LOCATION: on top of the Federal Building in Saginaw, Michigan.
This sculpture was built on a large grassy circle on top of the half underground, two-storied Federal Building. It is made of one-inch square steel bars curved to form a 15' high, 30' diameter hemisphere. It contains four circular openings. The bars come together at the top in a 10' diameter ring. Three bars are omitted on the south side to create an entryway. Midway up the hemisphere is a horizontal ring welded between the vertical bars.
The 8' diameter rings on the east and west sides of the hemisphere frame the sun rising and setting during the spring and fall equinoxes. From inside the sculpture one can see the North Star framed in the middle of the smaller, 6' diameter ring. A ring on the ground marks solar noon on the Summer Solstice.
SKY MOUND (1988- )
LOCATION: a 57-acre landfill fifteen minutes outside of Manhattan in Hackensack, New Jersey.
Holt worked with the Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission to attempt to create one of the world's largest art projects. Sky Mound functions as an observatory for solar events, a habitat for plants, and about 250 species of migratory birds that visit seasonally. Earth mounds and steel poles are aligned with the sun's rising and setting on the spring and fall equinoxes and the summer and winter solstices. At solar noon on the summer solstice, a circle of light cast through a steel structure will fit exactly into a steel ring in the ground. Gravel paths down the sides of the mound also highlight specific angles of the sun.
Methane wellheads frame the moon in its extreme positions-- the major lunar standstills-- which occur every 18.61 years, in relation to the Earth. On certain holiday evenings, a methane flare will emerge from a pipe on top of a mound on the southwestern edge of the landfill. Globe vents spinning at the ends of pipes around the lower slopes of the landfill will make the wind visible. A steel measuring pole at the bottom of the landfill will allow observation of the settling of the landfill over the years.
Various bushes have been planted in an irregularly shaped pattern around the perimeter of a pond. The water has been stocked with fish. Ducks, geese, and egrets have already been sighted there. On the southern edge next to the pond, alignments of tunnels and stairways in two "star mounds" will indicate the rising and setting of two of the brightest stars, Sirius and Vega.
The mound of over ten million tons of garbage stacked 100 feet high is sealed for safety reasons. To eliminate the possibility of toxic leachate seeping into the groundwater, a 30' deep slurry wall was constructed, a leachate collection system installed, and the top was covered with a specially designed plastic liner made partially from recyclable bottles. A methane gas recovery system uses the energy of the decomposing organic waste as an alternative source of energy for the community. This construction was the first phase of the project. The second phase, consisting of the sculptural elements, was to have been completed by the fall of 1992. In 1991, either to accommodate technological studies at the site or due to lack of funds, work on Sky Mound has been postponed indefinitely.
Referred to as the "contemporary Stonehenge," Sky Mound contains all the phenomenological aspects of the planet: fire (methane gas); water (drainage pond); earth (mounds on top of landfill); wind (causing ventilators to spin).
- Beardsley, John. Art in Public Places. Ed. Andy Leon Harney. Washington, DC: Partners for Livable Places, 1981.
- ---, ed. Earthworks and Beyond: Contemporary Art in the Landscape. Ed. Nancy Grubb. New York: Abbeville Press, 1984.
- ---, ed. Probing the Earth: Contemporary Land Projects. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1977.
- De Herrere, Maria. "Art to Measure the Universe." Christian Science Monitor Feb. 6, 1989: 16-17.
- Matilsky, Barbara C. Fragile Ecologies: Contemporary Artists' Interpretations and Solutions. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1992.
- Oakes, Baile. Sculpting With the Environment-- A Natural Dialogue. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1995.
- Sonfist, Alan. Art in the Land: A Critical Anthology of Environmental Art. New York: E.P. Dutton, Inc., 1983.
- Tiberghien, Gilles, A. Land Art. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1995.
- Who's Who in America. 2 vols. New Providence, New Jersey: Marquis Who's Who, Inc., 1997.
This information was compiled by Rachel Kaiser (2-14-97).
Solar Rotary (2).
Solar Rotary (3) -- Discussion about maintenance and collaborators.
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