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Nancy Holt. Photo: Holt/Smithson Foundation.
Nancy Holt. Photo: Holt/Smithson Foundation.

Smithsonian Acquires Nancy Holt Archives

The Smithsonian Institution’s Archives for American Art is to receive more than 50,000 documents related to pathbreaking Land artist Nancy Holt, The Art Newspaper reports. The papers, part of a bequest that is jointly held with the Holt-Smithson Foundation, pertain to her art and personal life, and limn, among other efforts, her successful attempt to secure the legacy of her late husband, Robert Smithson. Plans for two unrealized works that the foundation hopes to produce in the future are also included.

The papers, which cover four decades and will eventually be digitized, include Holt’s notebooks detailing her observations of the appearance of shadows at various times of day in relation to her design for Sun Tunnels, realized in 1976 in Utah’s Great Basin desert. A later notebook reveals similar observations pertaining to her Dark Star, 1984, occupying a public park in Arlington, Virginia. The documents show “how deliberate and perceptive Holt was about sight-lines, and how she was keenly attuned to one’s placement on the Earth, the passage of time and the movement of the sun,” noted Liza Kirwin, interim director of the Archives for American Art.

The two unrealized projects that the Holt-Smithson Foundation hopes to produce are those for Sky Mound, an earthwork paused in 1984 and intended to revive a landfill located in the New Jersey Meadowlands just outside Manhattan, and Solar Web, 1984–89, an open structure situated on California’s Santa Monica beach and tracking the sun’s motion. The latter work is astronomically calibrated to be accurate for the next thousand years.

In acquiring the collection—which additionally includes Holt’s dream journals as well as photographs, transcripts of interviews, and financial documents—the Smithsonian hopes to fuel and expand research on the role of women in the Land art movement, which has typically been perceived as dominated by men. “The depth of historical material solidifies Holt’s position as a pioneer of the movement,” said Jacob Proctor, the Smithsonian’s Gilbert and Ann Kinney New York Collector in charge of new acquisitions, noting that the trove reveals “the complex research and organizational labor involved in realizing her works, while her writings, interviews, and correspondences demonstrate how Land art was as much a discursive and media practice as a sculptural one.”

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