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Nancy Holt / Inside Outside

2022-06-17 to 2023-01-29

Nancy Holt (1938–2014) was a central figure in the New York art scene and was an innovator of site-specific installation and the moving image. Across five decades she asked questions about how we might understand our place in the world, investigating perception, systems, and place. 
Inside Outside is the most extensive European survey of Holt’s work and is the most ambitious presentation ever of her multifaceted artistic oeuvre. The exhibition includes film, video, photography, concrete poetry, audio works, sculpture and room-sized installations as well as drawings and documentation of her land art. Two of her major site responsive System Works are presented in this exhibition, in their first posthumous iterations, including Ventilation System, a playful sculpture covering several floors, both indoors and outdoors, in dialogue with the architecture of Bildmuseet.

Nancy Holt / Inside Outside is produced by Bildmuseet in collaboration with the Holt/Smithson Foundation, and in partnership with MACBA, Barcelona. Curators are Lisa Le Feuvre (Executive Director, Holt/Smithson Foundation) and Katarina Pierre (Director, Bildmuseet).


An innovator of site-specific installation and the moving image, Nancy Holt (1938-2014) expanded the places where art could be found, embracing the new media of her time. Across five decades she asked questions about how we might understand our place in the world, investigating perception, systems, and place.

Inside Outside explores the artist’s rich artistic legacy through a selection of works spanning 1966 to 1992. This is her first major European retrospective and most ambitious exhibition of her work to date. She produced concrete poetry, sculpture, earthworks, audioworks, film and video, photography, drawing, and room-sized installations. Two of her major site responsive System Works are presented in this exhibition in their first posthumous iterations: Ventilation System (1985-92) and Electrical Lighting for Reading Room (1985).

Perceptions and demarcations of being ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ guide this survey exhibition. Holt herself was an insider and an outsider: she was a key member of the Earth, Land, and Conceptual art movements, yet her work is far lesser known than that of her male peers – a situation this exhibition strives to amend. Highlighting Holt’s commitment to perception, light, and space, Nancy Holt / Inside Outside presents a number of previously unseen photoworks.

In 1973, Holt started to research her ideas for Sun Tunnels, creating Instamatic photo studies testing the possibilities of how vision might be focused through a sculpture located in a landscape uninterrupted by buildings and roadways. These hand-sized images are paired with large scale photo- graphs of Sun Tunnels by the influential photographer Richard Misrach (b. 1949) made fifteen years later. Placed in the context of audio and moving image works observing travel through the North American landscape, Holt’s series Alaskan Pines (1986), Athabascan/Russian Orthodox Graveyards (1986) and Miami Puddles (1969) are likewise exhibited for the first time.

Systems fascinated Holt. She paid attention to measured and astronomical time, to language and perception, and to economics and energy. In the mid 1960s, she worked as an assistant literary editor at the magazine Harper’s Bazaar, and in 1966, began creating concrete poems. Soon after she extended her exploration of language from the page to the landscape, guiding friends through unfamiliar sites with written scores. At the start of the 1970s, Holt created her Locators, sculptures made from T-shaped industrial piping to be looked through with one eye. She described the Locators as “seeing devices.” The Locators led to both her landmark earthwork project Sun Tunnels (1973-76) and her reflective room-sized installation Mirrors of Light (1973-74).

Nancy Holt / Inside Outside is curated by Lisa Le Feuvre (Executive Director, Holt/Smithson Foundation) and Katarina Pierre (Director, Bildmuseet). A fully illustrated publication, published by Monacelli Press, accompanies the exhibition, with contributions from Karen Di Franco, Lisa Le Feuvre, James Nisbet, and Katarina Pierre.

It includes a previously unpublished self-interview by Holt and three essays where Holt reflects on the ecological impact of her artwork.


Nancy Holt (b. 1938 in Worcester, Massachusetts, USA) grew up in New Jersey. She graduated with a degree in biology from Tufts University, Massachusetts in 1960. Later that year she moved to New York City, and in 1966 started to make art. The first presentation of her work was in the group exhibition Language III at Dwan Gallery, New York in 1969; her first solo exhibition was in 1972 at 10 Bleecker Street, New York.

Holt’s work is held in major collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum für Gegenswartkunst, Siegen; Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Salt Lake City; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. In 2010-12 the touring exhibition Nancy Holt: Sightlines was her first retrospective, accompanied by a monograph edited by Alena J Williams. Recent exhibitions include Nancy Holt (2018), Dia Art Foundation, New York; Light and Language (2021), Lismore Castle Arts, Ireland; Nancy Holt: Mirrors of Light (2021), Sprüth Magers, Berlin; Sound as Sculpture (2022), The Warehouse, Dallas; and Nancy Holt: Between Heaven and Earth (2022), Western Washington University.


Points of View, 1974  
Four-monitor video installation: black-and-white video, sound, vinyl lettering

Points of View was made for the Clocktower Gallery in New York City in 1974. Each monitor shows views looking out the windows to Lower Manhattan, framed by a moving circular tube. Nancy Holt invited four pairs of artists, writers, and curators to discuss what they saw, and these dialogues literally and conceptually demonstrate different points of view. Here writer and curator Lucy Lippard talks with artist Richard Serra; publisher Liza Béar with curator Klaus Kertess; artists Carl Andre and Ruth Kligman are paired; and critic and artist Bruce Boice shares ideas with artist Tina Girouard.  

Each duo discusses what can be seen through the north, south, east, and west-facing windows. The four-screen video installation reveals, as Holt notes in her journal, “the wonder of place through verbal description.” In the 1970s Holt’s interest in framing vision and making language material led her to explore the productive miscommunications that take place when information is imperfectly transferred from one medium to another. 

Ventilation System, 1985-92
Steel pipe, ventilators, air

Ventilation System (1985–92) is part of a series of System Works where Nancy Holt utilises standard industrial materials to create immersive installations. Holt calls attention to the aesthetics and origins of systems we rely on in the built environment, intending these immersive installations to be “practical yet playful.” In Ventilation System, a network of steel ventilation pipes interacts with the architecture inside and outside of Bildmuseet to give, as Holt described, “form to the atmosphere”. Holt presented four iterations of Ventilation System during her lifetime, and this is the first posthumous presentation of the work.  

Dual Locators, 1972
Steel pipes, black vinyl, mirror

Locators with Loci, 1972
Steel pipes, black paint

Locator with Mirror, 1972
Steel pipe, mirror

Photography was an essential medium for Nancy Holt: it enabled, as she often would say, “vision to be fixed.” Photography’s serial, circular, and seeing nature made it a perfect medium for Holt, and it also led to her sculptural thinking. In 1971 Holt created the first of her Locators, sculptural “seeing devices” drawing attention to visual perception and place. The Locators first focused on views from her studio windows and would develop to be sited in exhibition spaces and outdoors. Looking through Locators with Loci reveals a black circle edged with a light ring, a similar experience to seeing a solar eclipse, while in Locator with Mirror one sees one’s own eye. 

On floor 6 a Locator focuses on an extractor pipe on the roof of the Umeå Institute of Design, echoing a view Holt chose to zoom in on from her studio in 1971.

Nancy Holt installing Missoula Ranch Locators: Vision Encompassed, 1972
Photograph by Michael Wheatley

In 1972 Nancy Holt developed Missoula Ranch Locators: Vision Encompassed in rural Montana. Here she is seen installing the artwork and looking through one of her Locators – sculptural “seeing devices” that focus vision. This artwork comprised eight Locators set in a circle measuring 12 meters in diameter, each looking inwards and outwards.

Light and Shadow Photo Drawings, 1978  
Inkjet prints on paper from original 35 mm transparencies

Whether emanating from the stars or plugged into electricity grids, the perceptual qualities of light fascinated Nancy Holt. In the series Light and Shadow Photo Drawings Nancy Holt created twenty-two experiments with light and shadow. Holt shone a light through various curved cutouts and photographed the light and shadow that became projected on to the opposite wall, echoing her process of making light material in Mirrors of Light I. Here she distills the photographic medium to its essence: projected light. With no recognizable object of reference, the images invite us to observe the interplay of light and shadow, and grapple with the processes of our own perception.

Untitled, no date
Untitled, no date
Grommets through foam core in acetate box frame

As with Mirrors of Light (1973-74) and Light and Shadow Photo Drawings (1978), these two untitled works explore the qualities material qualities of shadow using the simplest of means. Made in the mid-1970s, Holt pushed grommets through a piece of card, each circle creating a shadow that follows the cycle of the moon.

Mirrors of Light I, 1973
Mirrors, 650-watt quartz light

In 1973, Nancy Holt created Mirrors of Light, a room-sized installation using a theater spotlight and a diagonal line of ten mirrors to make light material and expansive and to bring awareness to the body in space. The spotlight is focused on the mirrors, and the resulting refractions form ellipses of varying size and proportion that are projected across the room. The mirrors visually appear to double and expand beyond the limits of the room, making the boundary between inside and outside porous.

Concrete Poetry
Nancy Holt’s first artworks were concrete poems and textbased works of art. She treated words as discrete entities to be deployed in spatial strategies that defy and confound conventional narratives, thus creating new systems of understanding through the composition of the words on the page. In her 1972 journal, Holt noted a fascination with making words “concrete through vision.” These works announce the themes of sight, site, systems, place, and geography that can be seen throughout this exhibition. 

The World Through a Circle, ca. 1972   
Typewriter ink and pencil on paper

The World Through a Circle, 1972 
Typewriter ink on paper

The World Through a Circle is a concrete poem that captures Nancy Holt’s interests in how we perceive our surrounding world. In this early work, Holt manages to fit her most influential concepts within the confines of a circle as she invites us to consider not only what we see, but also how we see.

Crossword Work, 1966
Ink and graphite on paper

Based on Lucy Lippard’s exhibition at the Fischbach Gallery, entitled “Eccentric Abstraction,” Crossword Work is a functional crossword puzzle and artwork of the unexpected. While it adheres to basic principles of a crossword, Crossword Work uses the grid to create an unconventional design. The words in the answer key range from artistic concepts in the exhibition to simple colloquialisms. The humorous juxtaposition invites viewers to engage in spectatorship, investigation, and self-awareness – an invitation that resounds throughout Holt’s oeuvre.

Detach Here, 1967
Typewriter ink on paper

Along each segment of a square made up of dashed lines, Nancy Holt instructs the command to: “DETACH HERE.” The implied perforation beckons us to tear along the sides and remove the square from the rest of the paper – if the action was carried out, the poem would disappear. The first public showing of Holt’s work was in 1969 when this 1967 study of voidness at Dwan Gallery in New York.

Hometown, 1969
Typewriter ink on paper

In this concrete poem, Nancy Holt explores a key concept that she would return to throughout her career: the intersection between language and place. In Hometown, names of towns in New Jersey are typewritten on a letter sized piece of paper, with their location on the page mirroring their physical location. Here Holt is testing the limitations and boundaries of a map by distilling the form down to its most basic elements. Holt is also exploring her own personal geography; as a child Holt moved with her parents to Bloomfield and then later to Clifton, where she attended high school.

Disconsolate, 1970
Typewriter ink on paper

In this concrete poem, Nancy Holt brings together series of dreary words beginning with the letter D and their mirrored spellings to create an inverted triangle. The downward movement of the words in this concrete poem evokes a sinking sadness, while their phonic similarity cloaks the words in monotony. The penultimate line is simply ‘Da’ - an utterance of exasperation or the disintegration of verbal coherence – while the final line, ‘D,’ reduced the ideas behind the words to a linguistic abstraction. Holt’s concrete poems provide an alternate view of language, subverting literal meaning in favor of conceptual inquiry.

Making Waves, 1972
Ink on paper

In this concrete poem Holt charts the presence of three different “selves” throughout a single day, charting the moments on February 2, 1972, when she is variously a feminist, an artist, and a mystic. In this work we catch a glimpse into Holt’s character and the intersection of these three elements of herself. The three registers self-reflections begin their shifting roles near 4 a.m. to converge back into a single line again at 10 p.m. Holt’s characteristic method of thinking in systems to make the invisible tangible is at the core of Making Waves.

Vision Fixed, ca. 1972   
Typewriter ink on paper

In this concrete poem, Nancy Holt summarizes her enduring interest in exploring the ways that we see. Holt described herself as a perception artist, and this examination of perception can be seen across all her works. On July 2, 1972, she formed this sixteen-line poem, and the sixteen qualities of vision are materialized throughout this exhibition.

To Carl Andre, 1973
Photocopy collage

During the 1970s Nancy Holt and the artist Carl Andre developed a rich series of correspondence, and the pair frequently exchanged text poems sent on postcards, in faxes, and in the mail. This poem uses a 1970 advertisement for a lightbulb that compares the power of the bulb to the sun, with the advertising copy describing an experiment testing the bulbs in Inuit homes in Resolute Bay, an Artic waterway in the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut in Canada.

10 Billion Barrels of Crude Oil, 1986
Ink on paper

Nancy Holt visited Alaska in March of 1986 upon invitation from the Visual Arts Center of Alaska in Anchorage, who hoped she might create a work of art in celebration of the region’s beauty. Holt was instead struck by the Trans-Alaskan pipeline, which she depicts in this concrete poem. The facts and figures of the pipeline’s operation snake along the oil’s route; to read them one must shift positions, a physical disturbance that accentuates the discomfort of the information itself. This work speaks to Holt’s earlier concrete poems concerned with mapping while also relating to the System Works, such as Ventilation System, that were a primary focus for Holt in the 1980s. 

Concrete Poem, 1968
Inkjet print on paper from original 126 format transparency

In Concrete Poem Nancy Holt captures theater-marquis letters that have been seemingly dropped and dismantled on concrete steps. Holt took this image in Las Vegas, Nevada in 1968, on her first trip to the desert, and it marks the moment that she began to create visual, rather than textual, poems.

Stone Ruin Tour I, 1967
Slideshow projection, typewritten score, Instamatic photographs, digitised audio

A year after developing her concrete poems Nancy Holt made Stone Ruin Tour, extending her exploration of language from the page to the landscape and marking her first experiments with sound. In June 1967, Holt tape-recorded herself dictating a tour through a crumbling labyrinthine garden in Cedar Grove, New Jersey. This she transcribed to create an imperfect and unfinished map to explore the site, which was given to artist friends as a guide. In the vitrine is a grouping of Instamatic photographs showing the site and Holt with the artist friends Michael Heizer, Joan Jonas, and Robert Smithson; a purposefully unfinished score; while over the speakers is the original audio monologue; and, projected, is a slideshow of the stone ruin.

Going Around in Circles, 1973
Digitised video, black and white, sound
Duration: 15 minutes

Going Around in Circles is an early video experiment where Nancy Holt explores perception and point of view. A board in which five circular holes have been cut has been placed in front of the camera. Through the holes, which are covered and uncovered, five subjects are seen moving between five points, turning in circles, and following instructions. The artist and her subjects are heard discussing their experience of the performance, how it is perceived on the ground and through the playback monitor, and the different scales and viewpoints created.

Richard Misrach
Nancy Holt, Sun Tunnels #1, #2, #3, #4,
Pigment print

Nancy Holt created her landmark earthwork Sun Tunnels between 1973 and 1976 in the Great Basin Desert of Utah. Here they are seen photographed by the artist Richard Misrach in 1988, at near life-size. Four massive concrete tunnels are arranged in an X formation to perfectly align with the position of the rising and setting sun on the summer and winter solstices, the longest and shortest days of the year. Standing inside Sun Tunnels, the immensity of the American desert is framed by the circular tunnels to bring, as Holt described it, “the vast space of the desert back to human scale.” During the day, sunlight projects light onto the interior of the tunnels through holes bored into the top of each tunnel in the shape of four constellations: Draco, Perseus, Columba, and Capricorn. Sun Tunnels crystallises Holt’s persistent interests in cyclical time, framing vision, and the cosmos.

Sun Tunnels photo studies, 1975
Draco constellation, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., August 31

Capricorn constellation, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., August 31
Perseus constellation, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., August 31
Graphite, tape, and photo collage on paper

Sun Tunnels photo studies, 1975
Testing distance between tunnels, November 12 and 15
Photographs with graphite on reverse

In developing her ideas for Sun Tunnels (1973–76), Nancy Holt created drawings mapping out the star constellations perforating the surface of the tunnels and photo studies, seen in the vitrine, testing the potential tunnel alignment. Once the earthwork was complete, she extended her ideas further in photo works such as Sunlight in Sun Tunnels (1976), a composite of images taken every half-hour between 6:30 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. to chart the changing light inside a single tunnel. The film Sun Tunnels was made in 1978, and it reveals the processes of making and the artwork’s unique context. 

Sun Tunnels 
(Position for holes for Columba constellation), 1975  
(Position for holes for Perseus constellation), 1975  
(Position for holes for Capricorn constellation), 1975  
(Position for holes for Draco constellation), 1975  
Pencil, ink, and collage on paper

These four drawings mark out Nancy Holt’s plan for the holes that were to perforate each of the concrete tunnels in her landmark earthwork, Sun Tunnels. In selecting the constellations for each tunnel Holt required that the stars be of different magnitudes, with enough stars in each constellation to encompass the top half of the tunnel, and she wanted to ensure the presence of a few star holes at eye level to allow for views from both inside and outside the tunnel. Holt chose Draco, Capricorn, Perseus, and Columba. The constellation is a figure both fixed and ephemeral; it locates the viewer in place and time, yet its projection moves with the cycle of the Earth.

Preparatory Drawing of Sun Tunnels, 1975  
Graphite and black and white photographs on paper

Twelve photographs of the horizon line correspond to twelve separate angles of sight, a foreshadowing of what will be the views from Holt’s majestic earthwork, Sun Tunnels. The photographs are mounted on paper and demarcated with cardinal direction, as well as the geographical landmarks featured within them. The drawing is both a preparatory tool and an allusion to Holt’s conceptual meditations; the lines radiating from the center suggest an infinite path of sight, while the photographs fragment the view, limiting us to a constructed experience of the landscape.

Sunlight in Sun Tunnels, 1976 
Inkjet print on paper. Composite made by the artist in 2012 from original 35 mm transparencies

On July 14, 1976, Nancy Holt charted the evolving light and shadow falling to the interior space of one of the cylinders forming Sun Tunnels (1973-76). Every half hour, between 6:30 a.m. and 9:00 p.m., she meticulously used her camera to fix the ever-changing rise and set of the sun, bringing together this fifteen-hour process into a single composite photograph. Sunlight in Sun Tunnels makes material Holt’s wish to bring the stars down to earth; the perforations in the surface of the tunnel map out star constellations, the holes bringing the sunlight to the ground in an echo of the celestial pattern above.

Sun Tunnels, 1978
16 mm colour film and sound transferred to HD video
Duration: 26 minutes, 31 seconds

A streamlined record of the construction of Holt’s iconic earthwork, Sun Tunnels, Nancy Holt’s 1978 film is both documentation and an independent moving image work. The mammoth undertaking unfolds as a series of moments that move from shoveling dirt by hand, to the tense magnitude of a concrete tunnel suspended mid-air. The film reaches a beautiful conclusion in a display of the dance between the sunlight, the tunnels, and the desert surrounds at various times of day. Holt carefully works with the balance of sound and silence: the roar of construction machines at the start of the film fall away to the silence of the sun seen through the tunnels.

Views Through a Sand Dune, 1972
Narragansett Beach, Rhode Island
Documentation of artwork. Photographs by Nancy Holt

Hydra’s Head, 1974
Art Park, Niagara, New York
Documentation of artwork. Photographs by Nancy Holt

In the early 1970s Nancy Holt began making her first earthworks out in the landscape. On Narragansett Beach in Rhode Island Holt created Views Through a Sand Dune (1972) by inserting a concrete pipe through a sand dune, transforming the dune into a looking device or Locator framing views of the ocean and the shore. Two years later she made Hydra’s Head (1974) along the banks of the Niagara River in Lewistown, New York. Comprised of six pools of water arranged in the pattern of the sea serpent constellation Hydra, Hydra’s Head reflects the sky, the light, and the colours of the world above while the river rushes onward below. Views Through a Sand Dune and Hydra’s Head laid the foundation for Holt’s later earthworks that explore ideas of framing vision and bringing the cosmos down to earth at an even larger scale. 

Trail Markers, 1969
Inkjet prints on paper from original 126 format transparencies

Wistman’s Wood, 1969
Inkjet print on paper. Composite made 2012 by the artist from original 126 format transparencies

Nancy Holt made Trail Markers while traveling through Dartmoor National Park in England in 1969. The orange markers – created as a guide for hikers – highlight a human construct within a vast natural expanse, linking to Holt’s interest in systems and human movement through space and time, and to her fascination with the circle. On this same trip she created her first of four Buried Poems, artworks dedicated to a specific person, sited in a location Holt saw as evoking them. Wistman’s Wood is the location of a Buried Poem dedicated to the artist Robert Smithson, Holt’s partner. 

Miami Puddles, 1969
Inkjet prints on paper from original 126 format transparencies

California Sun Signs, 1972
Inkjet prints on paper from original 126 format transparencies

Nancy Holt’s early photo works Miami Puddles (1969) and California Sun Signs (1972) use seriality to create visual poems. While traveling in California in 1972 Holt photographed the word “sun” as it repeatedly appeared in various commercial and infrastructural contexts, combining her interests in written language, serial vision, and the cosmos to reveal the myriad of human inferences, manipulations, and conceptions of the sun. Miami Puddles uses another self-determined system of seeing to engage with the city of Miami solely through photographing puddles, which foreshadows Holt’s later earthworks using reflecting pools of water and the System Works that consider the aesthetics and technology of water drainage. 

Electrical Lighting for Reading Room, 1985  
Steel conduit, chains, and light bulbs

Electrical Lighting for Reading Room (1985) is a functional sculpture, designed to create a space for reading, listening, and watching. The undulating network of conduit and lightbulbs can be switched on and off at will, calling attention to the flow of electricity that stretches from Bildmuseet’s architecture into the installation. Like Ventilation System on Floor 1, this work externalises and exposes the existing technological systems of the building. As with Ventilation System, Bildmuseet presents the first posthumous display of this artwork. Always eager to experiment with new media, Nancy Holt made the three videos here during the early days of video technology. East Coast/West Coast (1969), Zeroing In (1973), and Revolve (1977) explore systems of thinking, vision, and language.

Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson
East Coast/West Coast, 1969
Digitised video, black and white, sound
Duration: 22 minutes

East Coast/West Coast was recorded in corner of the SoHo studio of artist Joan Jonas, a friend of Nancy Holt who can be seen in the works Down Hill and Over the Hill here in Inside Outside. Holt and Robert Smithson improvise a dialogue, using the comedy, wit, and collaboration of improvisational theater to perform stereotypical positions of East Coast and West Coast artists of the late 1960s. Holt assumes the role of an intellectual conceptual artist from New York, while Smithson plays a laid-back Californian driven by feelings and instinct.

Zeroing In, 1973
Digitised video, black and white, sound 
Duration: 31 minutes 15 seconds

Zeroing In is a dialogue between two interlocutors engaged in watching an urban scene from above. The voices belong to Nancy Holt and her close friend, the writer Ted Castle. Over a static shot of New York City in motion, we hear their exchange as they watch the same view on a monitor. Between camera and monitor two props are interposed: a cylindrical tube and a black piece of board, from which five circular, and closable, peepholes have been cut. Holt experiments with the props to create a range of viewing situations, switching between zooming in and out, presenting the entire unobstructed vista, and inspecting the monocular tube view.

Revolve, 1977
Digitised video, black and white, sound
Duration: 77 minutes

Revolve is a powerful study of mortality and understanding the span of one’s own lifetime. It focuses on Dennis Wheeler, the Vancouver-based writer and filmmaker who was a close friend of Nancy Holt. Filmed on three cameras, and by off-camera questions from Holt, Wheeler describes his experiences of leukemia as a “biological possession” that is “spiraling” around his body. At times Holt edits the narrative so that phrases return, with Wheeler seen speaking the same words from different angles. He describes his six-week treatment at Vancouver General Hospital and the shock of returning to the world. This reentry Wheeler describes as “coming back from the moon,” requiring his “whole conceptual framework” to be reset, and with this his understanding of art making.

Alaskan Pines, 1986
Inkjet print on paper from original 126 format transparencies

Athabascan/Russian Orthodox Graveyards, 1986
Inkjet print on paper from original 126 format transparencies

While traveling through south-central Alaska in March 1986, Nancy Holt visited the towns of Eklutna and Chitina where she created two photographic series – Alaskan Pines and Athabascan/Russian Orthodox Graveyards. In Alaskan Pines we see Holt communicate movement through space by focusing her lens on a repeating element of the landscape – the pines. Athabascan/Russian Orthodox Graveyards, made on the same trip, is part of Holt’s Graveyard Series, demonstrating her enduring interest in the relationship between people, place, and time. It studies the unique grammar of a burial ground that mixes the traditions of the Dena’ina Athabascan people and the belief systems of the Russian Orthodox church.

Pine Barrens: Trees, 1975
Pine Barrens: Footprints, 1975
Pine Barrens: Hoofs, 1975
Inkjet print on paper; composite made in 2012 by the artist from video stills

Nancy Holt grew up in New Jersey, and she frequently made work in her home state. In the screening room, the film Pine Barrens (1975) ​is a dynamic portrait of the New Jersey wilderness, with these photo works developed from film stills.

Up and Under, 1987-98
Pinsiö, Finland

Documentation of artwork. Photographs by Nancy Holt, 1998

Located in a former sand quarry near Tampere, Finland, Up and Under (1987–98) was commissioned by artist and farmer Osmo Rauhala as part of a larger effort to restore and reclaim developed land. A large, curved, and winding mound of earth is perforated by tunnels aligned with the cardinal directions. Three pools of water are positioned around the base of the sculpture, reflecting the sky, the earthwork, and the surrounding landscape. Holt intended the work to be experienced from all aspects, with each new perspective leading to, as she described, a “questioning of perception itself – near and far, whole and detail, reflection and reality, aerial and ground.” 

Film Works
These three films show Nancy Holt’s deep investigation into the ways landscape is first shaped by geological history and then by human intervention. Utah Sequences explores the environment at Rozel Point on the north arm of the Great Salt Lake in Utah, inviting conversations about the human impact on the environment. Swamp, made with Robert Smithson, shows the mechanics of seeing through a study of site, a core concern for Holt. We see what Holt sees, her eye looking through the tight close-up viewfinder of her 16 mm film camera, while Smithson’s voice guides Holt through the New Jersey swamps. In Pine Barrens the narrative is led by the ‘Pineys’, residents of the New Jersey Pine Barrens, with Holt’s camera-eye creating a cartography of a place familiar to her since childhood.  

Utah Sequences, 1970 
Digitised 16 mm film, color, silent
Duration: 9 minutes, 26 seconds

Shot on 16 mm film, Utah Sequences shows Nancy Holt’s deep investigation of how landscape was shaped first by geological history and second by human intervention. Filmed at Rozel Point on the north arm of Great Salt Lake, Utah Sequences captures wood cabins, an amphibious vehicle, and remnants of oil drilling that have largely disappeared from the site today. By contrast, the tar-seeps and salt-encrusted pelicans so present in this film remain a constant at the site. Holt’s film shows the artist Robert Smithson, the gallerist Virginia Dwan, the photographer Gianfranco Gorgoni, and the dealer Douglas Chrismas as they prepare for the construction of Smithson’s iconic earthwork Spiral Jetty (1970). Utah Sequences sheds light on Holt and Smithson’s time in Utah and invites conversations about entropy, timescales, and the human impact on the environment.

Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson
Swamp, 1971
Digitised 16 mm film, color, sound
Duration: 6 minutes

Swamp is a film by Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson, and here we see as Nancy Holt sees. She walks through a New Jersey marsh with her Bolex camera, her sight confined to the viewfinder. She relies on Smithson’s verbal navigation as he walks behind her. Reeds whip against the camera, rubber boots squeak with each painstaking step, and Smithson’s voice becomes increasingly insistent and supportive. As swamp grass consumes the visual frame, human sensibilities of direction and perspective dissolve. A visceral, chaotic journey unfolds as the two artists confront a dense maze of plant life-and struggle with the limitations of their own perception.

Pine Barrens, 1975
Digitised 16 mm film, color, sound 
Duration: 30 minutes 24 seconds

Pine Barrens is a dynamic portrait of the New Jersey wilderness, shot by Nancy Holt as she ventures through a strikingly desolate landscape. The film is underscored by the music of Bill Patton’s Pine Barrens Trio and interviews with local “pineys”—people who hold both pride and vexation for the fruitless land they call home. As they relate their struggles to make a living and describe supernatural encounters with the “Jersey Devil,” Holt’s lens intimately investigates the site, revealing the unexpected beauty of its details. 

Over the Hill, 1968
Inkjet print on paper. Composite made by the artist 2012 from original 126 format transparencies

Down Hill, 1968
Inkjet print on paper. Composite made by the artist 2012 from original 126 format transparencies

Capturing travel and the movement of the human body in space through a system of serial images is a recurring focus in Nancy Holt’s early photographic series. In Over the Hill (1968) and Down Hill (1968) we see Holt’s friend and fellow artist Joan Jonas moving through the New Jersey landscape. The images ask us to consider how the human body shapes our understanding of scale and time in the landscape. 

Locator (Exhaust Pipe), 1971
Steel pipe

Locator (Exhaust Pipe) was one of the earliest works Nancy Holt created in her Locator series. Directed out of a window in Holt’s New York studio on Greenwich Street, the view from this Locator features an exhaust pipe, perfectly encompassed by the aperture. Here at Bildmuseet the view is focused on an extractor pipe within the arts campus. Holt’s fascination with perception and vision are embodied in this simple intervention that foreshadows her interest in the sculptural forms of the often-overlooked systems in the built environment — an interest that would later be developed in her System Works of the 1980s.

Western Graveyards, 1968
Inkjet print on paper from original 126 format transparencies

Travel was an important part of Nancy Holt’s work, and she used the interstate highway network and her camera to create visual poems from repeating observed occurrences, as can be seen in the photographic series on this floor and heard in the audio work located on the stairs. Several times Holt turned her photographic eye to graveyards: sites full of enduring sculptural concerns with memorial and material encounters, and places where text is used to mark a life. Western Graveyards brings together sixty pared-back gravesites in Lone Pine, California, and Virginia City, Nevada, which Holt shot in 1968 and formed into a series in 2012.  

U. S. 80 SOLO: Nebraska, 1976
Digitised audio
Duration: 12 minutes 46 seconds

While driving on Interstate 80, a U.S. highway linking Salt Lake City and New York City, in 1976, Nancy Holt recorded, in a steady, progressive narration, what she saw while driving. She does not emphasise special destinations or major events, but rather the linear, cinematic unfolding of time as the car glides through space. The recording captures the unique mental and physical space of being in a car alone and the ever-in-betweenness of the mind as it identifies, free-associates, and meanders through its own thoughts. In 1979, the Nebraska section of the work was edited to be broadcast on the radio. 


A fully illustrated publication accompanies the exhibition, with contributions from Karen Di Franco, Teresa Grandas, Lisa Le Feuvre, James Nisbet, and Katarina Pierre. It includes a previously unpublished self-interview by Nancy Holt.

With support from Fort Knox, Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation and Henry Moore Foundation. 

Nancy Holt / Inside Outside
Lisa Le Feuvre, Curator and Executive Director, Holt/Smithson Foundation about Inside / Outside
Nancy Holt, Sun Tunnels (1973-76)

Great Basin Desert, Utah, USA
Collection Dia Art Foundation with support from Holt/Smithson Foundation
Video: Charles Uibel
© Holt/Smithson Foundation and Dia Art Foundation, Licensed by Artists Rights Society, New York


Welcome and Introduction

Katarina Pierre, director of Bildmuseet at Umeå University

Why Nancy Holt Now? On the legacy of Nancy Holt's artistic practice and her relevance today

Lisa Le Feuvre, director of Holt/Smithson Foundation and Katarina Pierre, director of Bildmuseet

Ecological Concerns from Land Art to Posthumanism

Milou Allerholm, writer and lecturer in art theory and art history, Stockholm

The Public and the Private: On political concerns in Nancy Holt’s and other artists’ practices in the '70s

Teresa Grandas, curator at MACBA: Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona  

Nancy Holt: The Horizon of the Text

Karen Di Franco, curator and writer based in London

All These Relationships: How the understanding of site-specificity has changed in my own artistic practice

Ingo Vetter, artist and professor at the University of the Arts Bremen