Parafin is delighted to present an exhibition exploring Nancy Holt’s use of language in her ground-breaking work of the late 1960s and early 1970s. This is the gallery’s second exhibition of Holt’s work. It presents for the first time in the UK the major video installation Points of View (1974) and a selection of early concrete poems.
Nancy Holt (1938–2014) was a member of the Earth, Land, and Conceptual art movements and a pioneer of site-specific installation and moving image work. Throughout her artistic practice language and systems of perception were key concerns. Holt’s earliest artworks were concrete poems, and many of her film and video works focus on communication, interpretation and the subjectivity of language.
In the mid 1960s Nancy Holt worked as an assistant literary editor at the magazine Harper’s Bazaar, and in 1966 began creating concrete poems and text-based works of art. These important early works announce many themes that would preoccupy her: sight, site, systems, place and geography. In her 1972 journal she noted a fascination with making words “concrete through vision.” Holt treated words as discrete entities to be deployed in spatial strategies that defy and confound conventional narrative meaning.
In the 1970s Holt’s interest in framing vision and making words material led her to explore the productive miscommunications that occur when information is imperfectly transferred from one medium to another. She addressed this in early 1970s video works, such as Zeroing In (1973) and her collaborations with Richard Serra and Charlemagne Palestine, Boomerang and Match Match their Courage (1974). The four screen video installation Points of View (1974) exemplifies this experiment, revealing — as she notes in her journal — “the wonder of place through verbal description.”
Points of View was made for the Clocktower Gallery in New York. Each of the four monitors is set to the circular windows of this iconic New York exhibition space, which look out to cardinal axes of the compass. The screens show four views of Lower Manhattan seen from each window accompanied by individual soundtracks of dialogues that, literally and conceptually, demonstrate different points of view. In the pairings Lucy Lippard talks with Richard Serra, Liza Béar with Klaus Kertess, Carl Andre with Ruth Kligman and Bruce Boice with Tina Girouard about what can be seen through respectively the north, south, east and west windows. As suggested by the title, Points of View underlines the subjectivity and fallibility of observation and communication. This process is expanded through time and space as we watch and hear these descriptions from Holt’s artist and writer friends in a different city some forty-six years later.
Alongside the concrete poems and Points of View, Parafin presents a group of photoworks addressing Holt’s use of words. Wistman’s Wood (1969) shows the site the first of Holt’s Buried Poems, artworks dedicated to specific individuals. This one was made for Robert Smithson (1938–73) in Dartmoor. California Sun Signs (1972) comprises a series of photographs documenting the many signs incorporating the word ‘sun’ that Holt drove past as she travelled through California in 1972 to the Mojave Desert. California Sun Signs is both a conceptual project and a photographic document that speaks to the culture of the land through which she is travelling. Given her preoccupation with the sun in landmark works such as Sun Tunnels (1973–76), Annual Ring (1980–81), Dark Star Park (1979–84) and Solar Rotary (1995), Holt’s focus on the word ‘sun’ in this work is both playful and prescient.
In 2021 Holt’s work is the focus of an ambitious exhibition at Lismore Castle Arts in Ireland, and she will be the subject of a major retrospective at Bildmuseet, Sweden in 2022.
Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, Nancy Holt (April 5, 1938 – February 8, 2014) grew up in New Jersey and graduated from Tufts University, where she majored in biology. In 1963 she married Robert Smithson (1938–1973). Holt is known for her earthworks, public sculpture and installation work. Best known for her large-scale environmental works Sun Tunnels (1973–76, Great Basin Desert, Utah) and Dark Star Park (1970–84, Arlington County, Virginia) her public sculptures are permanently installed in locations across Europe and North America. In 2018 Sun Tunnels was acquired by Dia Art Foundation, with the support of Holt/Smithson Foundation.
In 2010-12 the retrospective exhibition ‘Nancy Holt: Sightlines’ travelled from Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University, New York to venues in Karlsruhe, Boston, Chicago, Santa Fe, and Salt Lake City, accompanied by a monograph by Alena J Williams (University of California Press). Other notable recent exhibitions include Dia Art Foundation, New York (2018); ‘Nancy Holt: Locators’, Parafin, London (2015); ‘Nancy Holt: Land Art’, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester (2013); ‘Nancy Holt: Selected Film and Photo Works’, Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver (2013); and ‘Nancy Holt: Photoworks’, Haunch of Venison, London (2012). Her work has been included in major survey exhibitions including ‘Ends of the Earth: Land Art to 1974’ at Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and Haus der Kunst, Munich (2012-13), and ‘Light Show’ at Hayward Gallery, London (2013).
In 2012 Nancy Holt was made a Chevalier of the of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government. In 2013 she was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the International Sculpture Center in New York.
Carl Andre (born 1935) was born in Quincy, Massachusetts and lives and works in New York City. Through his minimalist arrangements, Andre redefined the parameters of both sculpture and poetry. Andre has been the subject of several retrospectives, including Dia Art Foundation (2014) and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (1970). Starting in the 1960s, Holt and Andre maintained a regular correspondence through postcards. A number of Holt’s concrete poems are dedicated to Andre.
Liza Béar is a New York-based filmmaker, writer, photographer, and media activist. She cofounded the independent art magazines Avalanche and Bomb, and since the 1960s has been active in public access television and independent radio. Béar interviewed Nancy Holt for the listener supported radio station WBAI about her earthwork Sun Tunnels (1973-74) in 1976, and for Avalanche invited Holt to discuss her film Pine Barrens (1975) and her completion of Robert Smithson’s Amarillo Ramp in (1973).
Born in New Jersey in 1941 and now based in France, Bruce Boice (born 1941) is an art critic and abstract painter. His works are held in the collections of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Detroit Institute of Arts, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Albright-Knox Museum, and the Schulhof Collection. In 1974, when Holt invited Boice to participate in Points of View, he was focusing on diptych and triptych painting forms and contributing to Artforum magazine.
Tina Girouard (1946-2020) was born in DeQuincy, Louisiana and moved to New York City in the late 1960s, where she became a pioneering figure of the SoHo art scene. Girouard co-founded both the artist restaurant Food and the exhibition space 112 Greene Street. Girouard’s multimedia conceptual practice spans performance, video, and fabric installation, and her work has been exhibited at the Museo Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City (1983), Venice Biennale (1980); the Paris Biennale (1977); and Documenta (1972 and 1977).
Klaus Kertess (1940-2016) grew up in Westchester County, New York, studying art history at Yale, as well as at Cologne and Bonn Universities. A writer, curator, and art dealer, in 1966 Kertess founded Bykert Gallery in New York City. Subsequently was curator at the Parrish Art Museum and at the Whitney Museum of American Art, curating the 1995 Whitney Biennial. Studying at the Art Students League, the New School for Social Research, and New York University,
Ruth Kligman (1930-2010) was an abstract painter. In 1974, the year Points of View was made, she published a book about Jackson Pollock titled Love Affair: A Memoir of Jackson Pollock.
Lucy R. Lippard (born 1937) is a writer and activist based in Galisteo, New Mexico. As well as writing prolifically, Lippard has realised performances, comics, street theatre; curated some fifty exhibitions; and been an active member of artists’ groups, including Artworkers’ Coalition, Ad Hoc Women Artists, Artists Meeting for Cultural Change, and Women’s Action Coalition. She has written extensively on the work of Nancy Holt, and became a member of the Board of Directors of Holt/Smithson Foundation in 2020.
Richard Serra (born 1938) was born in San Francisco and lives and works in New York and the North Fork of Long Island. He studied English Literature at University of California at Berkeley and Santa Barbara, and painting at Yale University. His sculptures have consistently expanded the discipline, and are held in collections around the world. A close friend of Nancy Holt, they collaborated on the 1973 video works Boomerang and Match Match their Courage. Serra worked with Holt to complete Robert Smithson’s earthwork Amarillo Ramp in 1973.
Active since 2018, Holt/Smithson Foundation exists to continue the creative and investigative spirit of the artists Nancy Holt (1938–2014) and Robert Smithson (1938–73). Holt and Smithson developed innovative ways of exploring our relationship with the planet, expanding the limits of artistic practice. Their Foundation engages in programs developing the artists’ creative legacies, continuing the transformation they brought to the world of art and ideas. Holt/Smithson Foundation works in partnership to produce exhibitions, publications, public programs, and new research.
All images © Holt/Smithson Foundation, Licensed by VAGA at ARS, New York