Throughout her career Ms. Holt was underrecognized, in part because her best work — “Dark Star Park,” an installation on a once-blighted site in Arlington, Va.; “Sky Mound,” a partly completed earth sculpture and park made from a landfill in the New Jersey Meadowlands; “Up and Under,” a sinuous tunnel-and-berm construction outside a small city in Finland — could not be shown in museums or galleries. And she held a fairly dim view of the traditional art world anyway.
“If work hangs in a gallery or museum,” she once said, “the art gets made for the spaces that were made to enclose art. They isolate objects, detach them from the world.”
Ms. Holt also devoted considerable time to protecting the legacy of Smithson, who died in a plane crash in Amarillo, Tex., in 1973 while surveying a site for one of his earth works.
In 2008 she helped rally opposition to a plan for exploratory drilling near the site of Smithson’s greatest work, “Spiral Jetty,” a huge counterclockwise curlicue of black basalt rock that juts into the Great Salt Lake in rural Utah. After Smithson’s death, Ms. Holt never remarried. She told one interviewer, “My art was enough for me.”
No immediate family members survive.
Nancy Holt was born on April 5, 1938, in Worcester, Mass. An only child, she was raised in New Jersey, where her father worked as a chemical engineer and her mother was a homemaker.
She studied biology at Tufts University and then moved to New York, where she quickly became involved with a group of prominent Minimalist and post- Minimalist artists including Carl Andre, Sol Lewitt, Eva Hesse, Joan Jonas and Richard Serra. (She collaborated with Mr. Serra in 1974 on “Boomerang,” in which he videotaped her listening to her own voice echoing back into a pair of headphones after a time lag, as she described the disorienting experience.)
She and Smithson had bought a small piece of land in Utah, and in 1974 she bought more: 40 acres for $1,600 in the Great Basin Desert, where she set about building “Sun Tunnels.” As she wrote later, installing the culverts — each weighing 22 tons — and documenting the process, required the help of “2 engineers, 1 astrophysicist, 1 astronomer, 1 surveyor and his assistant, 1 road grader, 2 dump truck operators, 1 carpenter, 3 ditch diggers, 1 concrete mixing truck operator, 1 concrete foreman, 10 concrete pipe company workers, 2 core- drillers, 4 truck drivers, 1 crane operator, 1 rigger, 2 cameramen, 2 soundmen, 1 helicopter pilot, and 4 photography lab workers.”