Nancy Holt: Sightlines, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University, New York, NY

Nancy Holt, Sun Tunnels, 1976

September 22 – December 11, 2010

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery opens its exhibition season with Nancy Holt: Sightlines, a thematic exhibition offering an in-depth look at the early projects of this important American artist whose pioneering work falls at the intersection of art, architecture and time-based media.

Since the late 1960s, Nancy Holt has created a far-reaching body of work, including Land Art, films, videos, site-specific installations, artist’s books, concrete poetry and major sculpture commissions. Nancy Holt: Sightlines showcases the artist’s transformation of the perception of the landscape through the use of different observational modes in her early films, videos and related works from 1966 to 1980.

Sightlines encompasses more than 40 works that illuminate Holt’s circumvention of modernist sculptural practice and institutional spaces. Featured in the exhibition are Holt’s film Sun Tunnels (1978), which documents the creation of her well-known site-specific work of the same name, and Pine Barrens (1975), a meditative documentary about a notoriously vast, undeveloped region in central New Jersey.

Other notable works in the exhibition are Swamp (1971, in collaboration with Robert Smithson), Locating #2 (1972), Boomerang (1973, in collaboration with Richard Serra), Points of View (1974), a four-monitor installation and Revolve (1977), alongside materials from early moments of Holt’s career that have been selected from the artist’s archive, which has only now become available for exhibition and study. Alena J. Williams, a Ph.D. candidate in Columbia’s department of art history and archaeology, is the curator of the exhibition.

Nancy Holt was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1938 and was raised in New Jersey. In 1960, she graduated from Tufts University. Shortly after, she moved to New York, where —alongside a group of colleagues and collaborators including Michael Heizer, Carl Andre, Eva Hesse, Richard Serra and Robert Smithson — she began working in film, video, installation and sound art. With her novel use of cylindrical forms, light and techniques of reflection, Holt developed a unique aesthetics of perception, which enabled visitors to her sites to engage with the landscape in new and challenging ways.

Works like Sun Tunnels (1973–76), Views Through a Sand Dune (1972), and her extensive Locator series were responsive to the environment and offered novel means for observing natural phenomena, such as summer and winter solstices, and sun and moonlight patterns, which transform specific geographic locations into vivid and resonant experiences. Although Holt’s work has regularly appeared in surveys and anthologies on the Land Art movement, many of her forays into film and video, landscape architecture and environmental ecology have gone surprisingly unexamined.

Holt is the recipient of five National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, two New York Creative Artist Fellowships and a Guggenheim Fellowship, among other honors. Her work has been shown at the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, the Tate Modern in London and elsewhere.

This exhibition coincides with the release of Nancy Holt: Sightlines, the first published retrospective account of Holt’s trail blazing 45-year career. Animated by rigorous and lively essays from some of the leading writers on post-1960s artistic practice and fully illustrated, it charts Holt’s artistic trajectory from her initial experiments with unlikely media — sound, light and industrial materials — to the culmination of her development of major site interventions and freestanding environmental sculpture. Edited by Alena J. Williams, it includes contributions from Julie Alderson, Matthew Coolidge, Pamela M. Lee, Lucy R. Lippard, James Meyer, Ines Schaber and Holt herself.

Following its presentation at the Wallach Art Gallery, Sightlines will tour to several venues in the United States and abroad.

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