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Public Programs

Measures of Distance: Space and Sign in the Work of Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson

Dec 13, 2022

This lecture by art historian Anne M. Wagner explores the legacies of Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson’s earthworks, including Holt’s Sun Tunnels (1973–76) in the Great Basin Desert and Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970) on the shore of the Great Salt Lake. Both artists worked in the American Southwest, where it is one thing to state that space and time go together, Wagner argues, and another to give form to this truth. Site and scale are crucial factors in the creation of earthworks, but so are dump trucks, concrete, and mud. Wagner explores how Holt and Smithson fed their work on this dialectical diet—not to resolve its built-in tensions but to mine them as the matter, the very material, of their art. 

Anne M. Wagner, Professor Emerita at the University of California, Berkeley, writes primarily on sculpture. Her essays explore topics as varied as Auguste Rodin’s reputation, Sarah Lucas’s ordinary objects, and the work of Charles Ray. With T.J. Clark, she has curated two major exhibitions, Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life (Tate Britain, 2013) and Pity and Terror: Picasso’s Path to Guernica (Museo Reina Sofía, 2017). She is currently at work on a new study, Sculpture and the Making of the Human. 

The inaugural Annual Holt/Smithson Foundation Lecture is presented in partnership with the Holt/Smithson Foundation. This ten-year series invites artists, writers, and thinkers to raise questions and present research extending the creative legacies of Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson, each hosted by a different institution in locations that are significant to both artists. From 1963, Holt and Smithson lived together in the West Village in New York City, just a few blocks from the Whitney’s current location.