Nancy Holt (American, 1938–2014), Sun Tunnels, 1973–76, Great Basin Desert, Utah, concrete, steel, and earth, 9 ft. 3 in. x 68 ft. 6 in. x 53 ft., diagonal length: 86 ft. Each tunnel: 18 ft. 1 in. x 9 ft. 3 in. diameter, © Holt-Smithson Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York.
Holt's most recognized artwork, Sun Tunnels (1973–1976), is a large-scale installation in Utah's Great Basin Desert, a four-hour drive from the UMFA. It consists of four large concrete cylinders, arranged on the desert floor in a cross pattern, that align with the sunrise and sunset on the summer and winter solstices. In addition to this perfect solar framing, each of the cylinders is pierced with smaller holes representing the stars of four constellations: Draco, Perseus, Columba, and Capricorn. Holt's design allows for an ever-changing play of light and shadow upon the surfaces of her work. The four concrete tubes act as viewfinders framing precise images which, in Holt's words, "bring the vast space of the desert back to human scale."
One of only a few women associated with Land art, Holt is a key yet under-recognized figure who has produced ambitious projects all over the world. Holt was also a pioneer of time-based media, and the camera was crucial to her exploration of space, sculptural form, and subjective perspective. Her work—photographs, films, site-specific installations, earthworks, public sculpture, and even personal flashlight and audio tours—transforms our perception of place, space, and time. Focusing our vision and challenging our understanding of an environment, Holt's work draws attention to the complexities of our relationship with the landscape we inhabit and act upon.
Sun Tunnels is a part of the Holt-Smithson Foundation, which furthers the legacies of Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt.