Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels, 1973–76. Installation view, the Great Basin Desert, Utah. Photo: the Holt-Smithson Foundation.

Dia Acquires Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels, Its First Work of Land Art by A Woman

The Dia Art Foundation in New York anounced that it has acquired Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels, 1973–76—a pioneering work of Land art located in the Great Basin Desert in northwestern Utah. In recognition of the acquisition, the Holt-Smithson Foundation will gift Dia Holt’s Holes of Light, 1973. Formed in 2017, the Holt-Smithson Foundation is an artist-endowed organization that continues the creative legacies of Holt and Robert Smithson

Nancy Holt was an important innovator and intellect,” said Jessica Morgan, director of the Dia Art Foundation. “She deeply understood Dia’s commitment to stewarding such radical works. Dia enjoyed a long and productive relationship with her, which began in 1999 when she facilitated the donation of Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, 1970, to Dia. I am honored to give her the place she deserves alongside her peers by bringing Sun Tunnels, the first work of Land art by a woman, into the fold of Dia’s collection.” 

Composed of four concrete cylinders that are eighteen feet in length and nine feet in diameter, Sun Tunnels is arranged in an open cross format and aligned to frame the sun on the horizon during the summer and winter solstices. Additionally, each tunnel is perforated by a series of holes corresponding to stars in various constellations—Capricorn, Columba, Draco, and Perseus—so that shadows cast by the sun through these small apertures into each tube trace the earth’s rotation. 

A year after Holt finished the piece, she said: The idea for Sun Tunnels became clear to me while I was in the desert watching the sun rising and setting, keeping the time of the earth. Sun Tunnels can exist only in that particular place—the work evolved out of its site.”

Based in New York, Holt first visited the American West in 1968. She immediately connected with the region and traveled to it for a few months each year before settling in Galisteo, New Mexico, in 1995. The Western landscape features prominently in her works, including the photographic series “Western Graveyards,” 1968; the film Mono Lake, 1968/2004, a collaboration with Michael Heizer and Smithson; and her first site-specific outdoor installation, Missoula Ranch Locators: Vision Encompassed, 1972, which was realized in a field in Montana.