Nancy Holt was an American artist, known for her sculptures, installation art, and earthworks. While she began her career as a photographer and video artist, she is mostly known for her large-scale environmental works. Her sculptures situated in the landscape function like cameras in that they are there not to be looked at but to be looked through. They frame vistas and celestial events.
In 1963, three years after graduating from Tufts University, she married Robert Smithson, a fellow environmental artist who died suddenly in 1973 at the age of 35. In 1974, Holt collaborated with Richard Serra as he videotaped her listening to her own voice echoing back into headphones. Her involvement with photography and optics served to influence her earthworks, which are “seeing devices . . . for tracking the positions of the sun, earth, and stars.”
Her 1973-1976 sculpture Sun Tunnels in northwest Utah’s Great Basin Desert, is a minimal arrangement of four 9-foot-tall cylinders, made of cast concrete covert pipes, positioned in orientation to the constellations. They align with the sunrise and sunset during the summer and winter solstices. Twice a year they align perfectly with the equinox and solstice. People can walk into them and see how sunshine projects tiny constellations inside the tubes through perforations on the tops of each cylinder.
In 1977-1978 she made “Rock Rings” from stone and masonry at Western Washington University. The rocks were hand-quarried from a mountain sixty-five miles northeast of the site and have been drilled for a viewer to look through concentric holes at the landscape.
She has made other earthworks in Ohio, California, Virginia, and New Jersey. Holt produced films and videos often in collaboration with other land artists such as her husband Robert Smithson, Richard Serra, and Michael Heizer.