Pioneering Land Artist Nancy Holt Dies at 75

Artist Nancy Holt, who in the past four years had begun to receive a renewed wave of institutional recognition, died on February 8 due to unknown causes. She was 75. Primarily known for her Land Art works, the most famous of which are her “Sun Tunnels,” Holt was a prolific artist who also worked in film, photography, and artists’ books. A resident of Galisteo, New Mexico for the past decade, Holt died in New York, where she had been receiving medical treatment.

As part of the Land Art movement that included artists Robert Smithson (Holt’s late husband), Michael Heizer, and Walter de Maria in the 1960s and ’70s, Holt was included in one of the first gallery shows devoted to Land Art at Virginia Dwan Gallery in 1969 as well as the 1977 Whitney Biennial.

Despite her contributions to the Land Art movement, Holt’s career was long overshadowed by her male contemporaries. Interest in Holt’s work was revived with “Nancy Holt: Sightlines,” a traveling exhibition curated by Alena J. Williams that originated at Columbia University’s Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Gallery in 2010. Holt was also included in LA MOCA’s “Ends of the Earth — Land Art to 1974” exhibition in 2012. Her final project, currently on view at the Dallas Museum of Art’s “Robert Smithson in Texas” show, was editing her film “The Making of Amarillo Ramp” (2013), which details the creation of Smithson’s sandstone earthwork in Texas in 1973.

Just last year Holt received the International Sculpture Center’s lifetime achievement award. At the ceremony, Holt described what being a sculptor meant to her. “When I say sculptor, it is a word I’ve used for myself over the years, and I realize it is the expansive word. If you say you’re a painter, it’s very limited. You are really stuck with your medium. But being a sculptor, you can breathe, you can do conceptual art, you can do video, you can do film, you can do Land Art, you can do installation pieces, you can do traditional sculpture.”

Sun Tunnels from 1976 in Utah’s Great Basin Desert

— Ashton Cooper (ashton_cooper)

(Photo: Nancy Holt, Utah Butte, 1977, Ardele Lister; Ananas à Miami)