Nancy Holt’s practice navigates the complexities of light as artistic medium, physical reality and aesthetic concept.

The first solo exhibition of Nancy Holt at Sprüth Magers in Berlin, Mirrors of Light, presents the room-scale installation with the same title, a work from 1973/74 that is crucial to understanding Holt’s notion of perceptual experience. It is an architectonic structure that channels projected light into a complex spatial experience. Mirrors of Light I first featured at Bykert Gallery in New York in 1973 and was shown again at Walter Kelly Gallery in Chicago the following year, though the installation was adapted to each venue.

 

Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin

Nancy Holt, Mirrors of Light II, 1974,
 Walter Kelly Gallery, Chicago

Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin

Nancy Holt, Mirrors of Light II, 1974
, Walter Kelly Gallery, Chicago

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Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin

Nancy Holt, Mirrors of Light II, 1974,
 Walter Kelly Gallery, Chicago

Nancy Holt, Mirrors of Light II, 1974,
 Walter Kelly Gallery, Chicago

Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin

Nancy Holt, Mirrors of Light II, 1974
, Walter Kelly Gallery, Chicago

Nancy Holt, Mirrors of Light II, 1974
, Walter Kelly Gallery, Chicago

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“My work has always been very site oriented—even when I showed in interior spaces with Mirrors of Light and Holes of Light.” –Nancy Holt, 1976

 

The piece consists of ten circular mirrors, each 24 cm in diameter, mounted in a diagonal line on the wall. A spotlight installed on an adjacent wall points directly at them, causing the refracted light to appear as an inverted diagonal of fragmented ellipses in the gallery space. The result is an experience of doubling, as some of the projected light circles appear again as a re-reflection in the mirrors—as does one’s own reflected image.

Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin

Nancy Holt
Mirrors of Light I, 1973–74
Mirrors, 650 watt quartz light
335 × 609 × 853 cm
132 × 240 × 336 inches

Details
Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin

Nancy Holt
Mirrors of Light I, 1973–74
Mirrors, 650 watt quartz light
335 × 609 × 853 cm
132 × 240 × 336 inches

Nancy Holt
Mirrors of Light I, 1973–74
Mirrors, 650 watt quartz light
335 × 609 × 853 cm
132 × 240 × 336 inches

Details
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The piece consists of ten circular mirrors, each 24 cm in diameter, mounted in a diagonal line on the wall. A spotlight installed on an adjacent wall points directly at them, causing the refracted light to appear as an inverted diagonal of fragmented ellipses in the gallery space. The result is an experience of doubling, as some of the projected light circles appear again as a re-reflection in the mirrors—as does one’s own reflected image.

Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin

Nancy Holt framed by the Holes of Light installation at LoGiudice Gallery, New York, 1973
Photo: Richard Landry
© Holt/Smithson Foundation, Licensed by VAGA at ARS, New York

 

While Mirrors of Light I plays with the proliferation of light reflected in circular mirrors, Holes of Light (1973) explores the materiality of shadow using light projected through circular-shaped holes in a central partition wall.

The participatory aspect is key, as the artist emphasized in a 1980 interview published in Artforum magazine: “A perceptual structure is built into the sculpture. The work can be seen only in durational time—the time it takes to see it from many points of view.”

Details
Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin

Nancy Holt framed by the Holes of Light installation at LoGiudice Gallery, New York, 1973
Photo: Richard Landry
© Holt/Smithson Foundation, Licensed by VAGA at ARS, New York

 

While Mirrors of Light I plays with the proliferation of light reflected in circular mirrors, Holes of Light (1973) explores the materiality of shadow using light projected through circular-shaped holes in a central partition wall.

The participatory aspect is key, as the artist emphasized in a 1980 interview published in Artforum magazine: “A perceptual structure is built into the sculpture. The work can be seen only in durational time—the time it takes to see it from many points of view.”

 

Participation is crucial to Holt’s practice indoors and outdoors alike. In 1971, Holt first began engaging visual perception through her telescope-like Locator sculptures. One of her first was Locator (Cracked Window) (1971), positioned by a window in her New York Studio. Soon she placed them outdoors, realizing Missoula Ranch: Vision Encompassed in 1972. Holt creates an inquisitive experience of the outside world, simply by framing and focusing on what is already there and manipulating perception through the simple yet powerful act of framing vision.

Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin

Nancy Holt, Missoula Ranch: Vision Encompassed, North of Missoula, Montana, 1972

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Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin

Nancy Holt, Missoula Ranch: Vision Encompassed, North of Missoula, Montana, 1972

 

Participation is crucial to Holt’s practice indoors and outdoors alike. In 1971, Holt first began engaging visual perception through her telescope-like Locator sculptures. One of her first was Locator (Cracked Window) (1971), positioned by a window in her New York Studio. Soon she placed them outdoors, realizing Missoula Ranch: Vision Encompassed in 1972. Holt creates an inquisitive experience of the outside world, simply by framing and focusing on what is already there and manipulating perception through the simple yet powerful act of framing vision.

Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin

Nancy Holt
Untitled (Locator), 1971
Pencil on paper
21.6 × 27.9 cm
8 1/2 × 11 inches

Details
Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin

Nancy Holt
Untitled (Locator), 1971
Pencil on paper
21.6 × 27.9 cm
8 1/2 × 11 inches

Nancy Holt
Untitled (Locator), 1971
Pencil on paper
21.6 × 27.9 cm
8 1/2 × 11 inches

Details
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Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin

Nancy Holt
Untitled (Study for Locators), 1972
Pencil on paper
21.6 × 27.9 cm
8 1/2 × 11 inches

Details
Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin

Nancy Holt
Untitled (Study for Locators), 1972
Pencil on paper
21.6 × 27.9 cm
8 1/2 × 11 inches

Nancy Holt
Untitled (Study for Locators), 1972
Pencil on paper
21.6 × 27.9 cm
8 1/2 × 11 inches

Details
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After first engaging visual perception with her telescope-like Locator sculptures, Holt set about constructing specific, situational conditions that foregrounded the influence of light on spatial awareness. Holt translated the concepts she exemplified in Mirrors of Light to the landscape with her iconic Sun Tunnels (1973–76) in the Great Basin Desert, Utah. The circle is a recurring shape in Holt’s oeuvre, who used it to both direct the gaze and to evoke the continuous movement of celestial bodies.

 

Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin

Nancy Holt
Untitled (Locator), 1973
Pencil on paper
43.8 × 51.1 cm
17 1/4 × 20 1/8 inches

Details
Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin

Nancy Holt
Untitled (Locator), 1973
Pencil on paper
43.8 × 51.1 cm
17 1/4 × 20 1/8 inches

Nancy Holt
Untitled (Locator), 1973
Pencil on paper
43.8 × 51.1 cm
17 1/4 × 20 1/8 inches

Details
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Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin

Nancy Holt
Preparatory Drawing of 'Sun Tunnels', 1975
Graphite and twelve black and white photographs on paper
36.2 × 51.4 cm
14 1/4 × 20 1/4 inches

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Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin

Nancy Holt
Preparatory Drawing of 'Sun Tunnels', 1975
Graphite and twelve black and white photographs on paper
36.2 × 51.4 cm
14 1/4 × 20 1/4 inches

Nancy Holt
Preparatory Drawing of 'Sun Tunnels', 1975
Graphite and twelve black and white photographs on paper
36.2 × 51.4 cm
14 1/4 × 20 1/4 inches

Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin
Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin

Nancy Holt
Preparatory Drawing of 'Sun Tunnels', 1975 (detail)

Nancy Holt
Preparatory Drawing of 'Sun Tunnels', 1975 (detail)

Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin
Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin

Nancy Holt
Preparatory Drawing of 'Sun Tunnels', 1975

Nancy Holt
Preparatory Drawing of 'Sun Tunnels', 1975

Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin
Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin

Nancy Holt
Preparatory Drawing of 'Sun Tunnels', 1975 (detail)

Nancy Holt
Preparatory Drawing of 'Sun Tunnels', 1975 (detail)

Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin
Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin

Nancy Holt
Preparatory Drawing of 'Sun Tunnels', 1975

Nancy Holt
Preparatory Drawing of 'Sun Tunnels', 1975

Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin
Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin

Nancy Holt
Preparatory Drawing of 'Sun Tunnels', 1975

Nancy Holt
Preparatory Drawing of 'Sun Tunnels', 1975

Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin
Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin

Nancy Holt
Preparatory Drawing of 'Sun Tunnels', 1975 (framed)

Nancy Holt
Preparatory Drawing of 'Sun Tunnels', 1975 (framed)

Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin
Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin

Nancy Holt
Preparatory Drawing of 'Sun Tunnels', 1975 (installation view)

Nancy Holt
Preparatory Drawing of 'Sun Tunnels', 1975 (installation view)

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Nancy Holt (1938–2014) is among the most important figures of the earth, land, and conceptual art movements. A pioneer of site-specific installation and the moving image, Holt redefined the limits of art. She expanded the places where art could be found and embraced the new media of her time. Over five decades, she questioned how we might understand our place in the world, examining sites, systems, and perception. Holt’s rich artistic output includes concrete poetry, audio works, film and video, photography, slides, ephemeral gestures, drawings, room-sized installations, artist books, and public sculptures. 

Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin

Nancy Holt
Sun Tunnels, 1973–76
Concrete, steel, earth
280 × 2620 × 1620 cm
110 1/4 × 1031 1/2 × 637 7/8 inches

Details
Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin

Nancy Holt
Sun Tunnels, 1973–76
Concrete, steel, earth
280 × 2620 × 1620 cm
110 1/4 × 1031 1/2 × 637 7/8 inches

Details
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1 of 1

Nancy Holt (1938–2014) is among the most important figures of the earth, land, and conceptual art movements. A pioneer of site-specific installation and the moving image, Holt redefined the limits of art. She expanded the places where art could be found and embraced the new media of her time. Over five decades, she questioned how we might understand our place in the world, examining sites, systems, and perception. Holt’s rich artistic output includes concrete poetry, audio works, film and video, photography, slides, ephemeral gestures, drawings, room-sized installations, artist books, and public sculptures. 

Nancy Holt – Mirrors of Light – Berlin

Nancy Holt in the back of a truck in the Utah desert, 1968
Photo: Michael Heizer
© Holt/Smithson Foundation, Licensed by VAGA at ARS, New York

 

 

The exhibition Nancy Holt: Inside/Outside opens June 2022 at Bildmuseet in Umeå, Sweden, followed by Nancy Holt: Locating Perception, a solo presentation at Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles in September 2022. Other solo exhibitions in 2021/22 include those at the campus galleries of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and Western Washington University, both sites of her public sculptures.