Nancy Holt on Nancy Holt

A pioneer in the Land Art movement (and art world hero of mine), Nancy Holt is the subject of a retrospective at the Tufts University Art Gallery which opened on January 19th. A Worcester, Massachusetts native and Tufts graduate (Class of 1960), for the past forty-five years, Holt has created land and site-specific sculptures that explore the summer and winter solstices and sun and moonlight patterns–transforming sculpture into “live experiential instruments.”

On Tuesday January 24, 2012, Nancy Holt talked about her inspiring career as an artist, her process and challenges behind her work. I share some of her thoughts:

Sun Tunnels (1973-1976), Lucin, Utah. Photo by Sean Baron, The University of Utah – College of Architecture and Planning

On collaboration:

I work with a lot of artisans and crafts people and is very important to me the relationship that I have with those people—and is an opportunity for them to have their work appreciated in and of itself.

In reference to Star-Crossed (1979–81) at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio:

Star Crossed, Miami University, Oxford, OH. Photo: The Ohio Outdoor Sculpture Inventory

I’d like to say I think the moon looks better in the pool, so I would say that art improves on nature.

On the passage of time and her work:

I now know more about what happens to my works now through the internet. I get the news items about what’s going on—of people who were at Sun Tunnels…

In reference to Solar Rotary (1995) at University of South Florida, Tampa Campus:

I love seeing my work in different seasons, with snow on them and in this case—I love seeing it with the rain.

On her process:

I didn’t know what process was. All I can say is that certain things inspire me and they live within me and they lead to action later on. It leads to fruition. You never know how it’s going to manifest.

Where is the Love? The Building Bostonians Love to Hate

Boston City Hall, Rear facing Faneuil Hall, Photo Credit: Historic American Building Survey

Yelp has become quite the platform for not only reviewing restaurants, hotels, stores and everything in between, but also architecture and public spaces. Who knew? 

 Curious to see what people had to say about some of Boston’s most beautiful “ugly” buildings, I conducted a search on Yelp.

It turns out, people love the Christian Science Monitor Complex in Boston, a complex with an excellent collection of concrete buildings from around the 1970’s, but hate Boston City Hall. Who knew?  Bostonians love to hate it, while those reviewers from other states like it.

Did you know that in 1976, on a national survey conducted by the American Institute of Architects and taken by architects, critics and historians in the United States, Boston City Hall was voted as one of the ten greatest works in American architectural history? I have been saying that for years, but read it from our very own architecture critic Robert Campbell

I think Boston City Hall is one of the most beautiful buildings in the City of Boston. Let’s agree to disagree.

Yelp Reviews of City Hall:

Jeremy G. from Humble, TX – writes “THIS is the building Le Corbusier **WISHED** he had designed.”

Beans B. from Brighton, MA:  “From the wind-swept brick wasteland outside to the ridiculously narrow and uncomfortable spectator seats in the city council chamber to the lack of sufficient restrooms this building is a disaster.”

Alexandra S. from Hingham, MA: “There’s no avoiding the area for me since I walk through Boston City Hall plaza twice a day during the week. Ultimately, the sad reality is that no matter how much I’ve looked for something to appreciate, I don’t like this building.  

I’ll even go a step further and say that there is in fact nothing redeeming at all about Boston CIty Hall and the red brick environs. I finally just have to admit to myself that this is just one ugly and off-putting building and plaza.”

Sebastian Y. from Boston, MA: “A monstrosity apparently designed by angry communists, which would look more at home on the outskirts of Moscow or Minsk.” 

Hans W. from Brooklyn, NY writes:  “City Hall is a badass spaceship space palace, and it’s sitting downtown because in 1962 someone had an original idea and someone else took a chance on it.  And that’s what life’s all about.”-

K G. from Boston, MA: “I don’t despise the building itself as much as many people seem to.  I have not seen another building like it, so you can call it unique at least.”

Jack M. from Boston, MA: “As a friend of mine once said, “Boston City Hall is the ugliest piece of architecture on the planet”.

Dan B. from Newton, MA: “The Boston City Hall looks like a good design for a maximum security prison in the Soviet Union.  Except even the Soviets would never have come up with the giant concrete stilts, which causes the building’s underside to loom over congress street and the unfortunate security guards who work there.”

Courtney P. from Boston, MA: “This building is just ugly.  With architecture being one of my favorite parts of Boston, it’s so disappointing that this building is City Hall.  Please consider building something else!”

What do you think of Boston City Hall? Let’s hear your thoughts.

Shapeshifting: Transformations in Native American Art at the Peabody Essex Museum

Rebecca Belmore (born 1960), Anishinaabe; Fringe, 2008; Inkjet print on paper; 21 x 63 inches (53.3 x 160 cm); Collection of Catherine Sullivan-Kropa and William Kropa; © Rebecca Belmore, image courtesy Rebecca Belmore, photograph by Henri Robideau.

A terrific dialogue is currently unfolding in the galleries of the Peabody Essex Museum, with an exhibition that explores links between historic and contemporary Native American art. Featuring works drawn from worldwide collections, Shapeshifting: Transformations in Native American Art, takes us on an unforgettable, celebratory journey that transcends boundaries and erases stereotypes along its path.

A concept in Native cultures, shapeshifting refers to the ability of humans changing into animals or supernatural beings and vice versa. In essence, it refers to the idea that creativity has always been part of Native cultures.

“…Native American art has always taken cultural knowledge and metaphors and refreshed them with new ideas and forms[1]” writes Curator Karen Kramer Russell in the exhibition catalog. In the past, “…museum exhibitions have focused largely on either historical or contemporary Native American art, but with very little mixing of the two.” Shapeshifting shatters the notion that all art created by Native Americans is either ethnographic or crafty in appearance.

Kent Monkman (born 1965), Cree; Théâtre de Cristal, 2007; Chandelier, plastic beads, acrylic string, cabouchons, simulated buffalo hide, and Super-8 film: Group of Seven Inches, 2005 (7:34 minutes), edition 1/3; 168 x 240 inches (diam. approx.) (426.7 x 609.6 cm); The Glenbow Museum, Alberta, Canada, purchased with funds from Historic Resource Fund, 2008, 2008.099.001; Courtesy Kent Monkman and Bruce Bailey Art Projects; © Kent Monkman, image courtesy MacKenzie Art Gallery, photograph by Don Hall.
Kent Monkman (born 1965), Cree; Théâtre de Cristal, 2007; Chandelier, plastic beads, acrylic string, cabouchons, simulated buffalo hide, and Super-8 film: Group of Seven Inches, 2005 (7:34 minutes), edition 1/3; 168 x 240 inches (diam. approx.) (426.7 x 609.6 cm); The Glenbow Museum, Alberta, Canada, purchased with funds from Historic Resource Fund, 2008, 2008.099.001; Courtesy Kent Monkman and Bruce Bailey Art Projects; © Kent Monkman, image courtesy MacKenzie Art Gallery, photograph by Don Hall.

Kent Monkman’s electrifying video installation Théâtre de Cristal opens the exhibition and sets the tone for the rest of the show. Referencing a tipi made of clear plastic beads lit by an elaborate chandelier, Monkman critiques and challenges “the dominant Euro-American ethnocentric construction of Native North America embedded in a global consciousness.[2]” Paul Chaat Smith, Curator of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian considers Théâtre de Cristal “a work from the future about people who aren’t supposed to have one.[3]The installation is brilliant and the accompanying text should not be missed (even if you are a White European male, and you’ll know what I mean by this if you see this exhibit).

Kent Monkman (born 1965), Cree; Théâtre de Cristal, 2007; Chandelier, plastic beads, acrylic string, cabouchons, simulated buffalo hide, and Super-8 film: Group of Seven Inches, 2005 (7:34 minutes), edition 1/3; 168 x 240 inches (diam. approx.) (426.7 x 609.6 cm); The Glenbow Museum, Alberta, Canada, purchased with funds from Historic Resource Fund, 2008, 2008.099.001; Courtesy Kent Monkman and Bruce Bailey Art Projects; © Kent Monkman, image courtesy MacKenzie Art Gallery, photograph by Don Hall.

Organized thematically, many works in Shapeshifting rely on politics to convey a concept, while others explore identity, place, and cultural heritage.

Marie Watt’s Column Blanket Stories, evoke the blankets infested with smallpox and other diseases brought by Europeans and distributed to Natives across the Americas. Independent scholar Kara English notes that today, blankets are associated with beauty, honor and respect and that “these [blankets] prized items weave together an intergenerational continuum and are gifted at births, comings-of-age, graduations, marriages, naming and honoring.[4]

Marie Watt (born 1967), Seneca; Column (Blanket Stories), 2003; Wool blankets and cedar; 144 x 20 x 20 inches (365.8 x 50.8 x 50.8 cm); Collection of Deborah Green; © Marie Watt, image courtesy Marie Watt and PDX Contemporary Art.

Rebecca Belmore’s Fringe, a powerful and haunting photograph of a female figure references the abuse of Native women and of the land. Bob Haouzous’ Wheel of Fortune is a deliciously superb work featuring the face of Geronimo surrounded by descriptive words. This wonderful work is a call to Native people to stop hiding behind general stereotypes. And yes, the Wheel of Fortune spins just as it does in the television game.

Bob Haozous (born 1943), Chiricahua Apache; Wheel of Fortune, 2005; Steel and paint; 96 inches (diam.) (243.8 cm); Courtesy the artist; © Bob Haozous.

Shapeshifting is a provocative exhibition filled with complex ideas. It opened my eyes to a world of Native American art making not frequently discussed or exhibited outside non-Native art or anthropological museums. As far as the implications of an exhibition with many politically charged artworks, Karen Kramer Russell says “the intention is that people will have a broader and deeper understanding of Native art and culture.”

Shapeshifting captures the creative spirit and resilience of cultures that have long been repressed.  It’s a remarkable and fascinating exhibition that changed my perception of contemporary Native American art and its transformations through time. The works in this exhibition foster an enriching dialogue that should be nurtured and savored over multiple visits to the Peabody Essex Museum.

Shapeshifting: Transformations in Native American Art is on view through April 29, 2012 at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA.


[1] Page 15, [2] Page 24, [3] Page 220, [4] Page 180

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But Destroying Art Will Always Hurt Me

In reference to his site specific work Tilted Arc in New York City, Minimalist artist Richard Serra stated in an interview with The New York Times that “to remove the work is to destroy the work.[1]” In the early eighties, Tilted Arc was at the center of a controversy that eventually led the government to dismantle and tank it.

Tilted Arc, Richard Serra, 1981, sculpture, steel, New York City (destroyed). Photo © 1985 David Aschkenas.

This past summer, I caught Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and was struck by one drawing in particular titled “The United States Government Destroys Art (1989).” The drawing, part of the Eli and Edythe L. Broad Collection, is made using paintstick on two sheets of paper arranged to form a slit at the center.

RICHARD SERRA. The United States Government Destroys Art, 1989. Paintstick on two sheets of paper; 113 x 215 ¼ inches. Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Like much of Serra’s drawings, when the drawing above is experienced in person and up-close, it looms over the viewer, it makes us aware of ourselves and of the space we’re in.  Because these drawings are different shades of black with varying degrees of textures, they provoke an intense palpable feeling that lingers on forever.

From left, works from 1989: “The United States Courts Are Partial to the Government,” “No Mandatory Patriotism” (center) and “The United States Government Destroys Art.” Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times. Installation view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Just like with Serra’s Tilted Arc, a similar battle has been unfolding in Downtown Hartford, Connecticut since the late seventies. Steps away from the Wadsworth Athenaeum, is Carl Andre’s Field Stone Sculpture (1977), another site-specific “earthwork” threatened with insensitive changes like the removal and the rearranging of some of its components.

Aerial photo of Carl Andre's Stone Field Sculpture (1977) in Hartford, CT

The sculpture comprises of 36 boulders arranged on a triangular parcel of land bordered by Main Street, Gold Street and the Ancient Burying Grounds. The stones are all local and are positioned on the ground without looking like much intervention happened. This is the point of many of the works born out of the Environmental and Site-Specific Art movement that emerged in the 1960’s. The works of this movement were made accessible to everyone and often encouraged public interaction. Field Stone Sculpture is accessible by everyone and encourages user interaction.

Carl Andre's Stone Field Sculpture (1977) in Hartford, CT. Photo Credit: Anulfo Baez

Field Stone Sculpture has not survived without polemics. Very much under appreciated by the people of Hartford, the work is seen by many as a testament to the power of time, and by others as a field of “rocks.” Do the people of Hartford not know that this is Carl Andre’s largest work and only public commission?

On a recent fall trip to Hartford, I spent time exploring the adjacent historic burying ground and contemplating the stillness that surrounds Field Stone Sculpture.

Carl Andre's Stone Field Sculpture (1977) in Hartford, CT. Photo Credit: Anulfo Baez

In spite of the hustle and bustle of Downtown Hartford, the siting of the work, the scale and arrangement of the boulders on the land allowed my mind to wander around freely. Field Stone Sculpture could not fit in more perfectly in this location. The handsome Colonial Revival buildings that surround it and the nearby parks designed by the firm of Frederick Law Olmsted create a wonderful “natural” and man-made contrast in this section of Hartford.

On October 30, 1963 an editorial in The New York Times lamented the terrible loss of New York’s Pennsylvania Station, a grand Beaux Arts building designed by the prestigious firm of McKim, Mead and White. “…we will probably be judge not by the monuments we build, but by those we have destroyed” were the words that have now shaped the current preservation movement. Should Field Stone Sculpture in the near future suffer the same fate of Tilted Arc, Penn Station and countless other long lost monuments, Harftord will not be judge by the monuments it will builds, but by those it has destroyed.

It would be a terrible shame to alter Field Stone Sculpture because by simply altering it, would be to destroy it.


[1] Grace Glueck, “What Part Should the Public Play in Choosing Public Art?” New York Times, February 3, 1985, 27.

My “Best Art(s) of 2011″ List

El Anatsui, Plot A Plan III, 2007. Aluminum and copper wire, 73 x 97 in. Photo courtesy: Jack Shainman Gallery.

El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You about Africa, Davis Museum and Cultural Center at Wellesley College. March 30 – June 26, 2011.

Organized by the Museum for African Art, New York, but premiered at the Davis Museum, this exhibition was my introduction to the work of El Anatsui, whose wall pieces exist somewhere in the realm of textile, sculpture and fashion. Everything I saw was inspiring.

SpiNN, Shazhia Sikander, Digital Animation. Courtesy of the Artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co. New York.

Shazhia Sikander: The Exploding Company Man and Other Abstractions, Sandra and David Bakalar Gallery, Massachusetts College of Art and Design. September 19 – November 26, 2011.

Sikander explores many contemporary issues through an aesthetics that draws primarily from Indo-Persian miniature paintings. The title video work is a feast for the senses, resulting in an explosion of imagery, colors and textures that kept me returning week after week to see this exhibition.

Tristram Lansdowne, Hamburg Palimpsest 35 x 47 Watercolour on paper. Image Courtesy of the Artist.

Contained, curated by John Pyper, Mills Gallery, Boston Center for the Arts, March 18 – April 24, 2011.

There were many interesting works in this show that still resonate with me today. Matthew Woodward’s jaw dropping graphite on paper drawings of decorative iron gates and Matthew Best’s diary-like “Suburban Foraging Project” sketches of edible plants he encounters throughout his travels, were phenomenal in this show.

River Street Tower Still #16, Daniel Phillips, 2010

River Street, Daniel Phillips. Public Art Installation, Boston Cyberarts Festival, April 30, 2011.

A site specific installation in Hyde Park and installed on the former site of a paper mill, River Street is an exploration of “place memory.” Moments that vanish before our eyes were captured through the use of approximately 900 photographs a minute, creating a time lapse moving image of the crumbling paper mill and the flora and fauna that live in the heavily polluted Neponset River.

Raul Gonzalez, Wake up Call (On My Last Nerve), 2011 | Ink and Bic pen, 45 by 65 inches acrylic. Courtesy the artist and Carroll & Sons Gallery, Boston.

Close Distance, curated by Liz Munsell, Mills Gallery, Boston Center for the Arts. July 15 – August 28, 2011.

The works of six emerging Boston area Latino artists were richly presented in this exhibition that was as culturally diverse, and distinct as were the artistic practices of the artists in it. The works were engaging and provoking and Munsell’s juxtaposition of Daniela Rivera and Raul Gonzalez allowed for a riveting experience.

Still Life with Glasses and Tobacco, 1633 Willem Claesz. Heda (1594-1680), Oil on panel, 20 x 29 ¾ inches (50.8 x 75.6 cm), The Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Collection, Image courtesy Peabody Essex Museum.

Golden: Dutch and Flemish Masterworks from the Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Collection, Peabody Essex Museum. February 26 – June 19, 2011.

One of the most breathtaking and refreshing exhibitions of 2011. It was thrilling to see so many masterworks by the leading Dutch and Flemish artists of the 1600s including Rembrandt, Frans Hals and Jan van der Heyden among many others. The best part of the show was drooling over the details in the paintings using a magnifying glass provided by the museum.

Dance Hall Girl, Jennifer Steinkamp. 2004-11. Image courtesy of the artist.

Astatic, Sandra and David Bakalar Gallery, Massachusetts College of Art and Design. February 1 – March 5, 2011.

One of the sweetest surprises of 2011 was this exhibition at MassArt exploring the role of animation in contemporary art practice. Jennifer Steinkamp’s “Dance Hall Girl” had me smiling for days. Click on Dance Hall Girl to watch a short animation. Once you’ve finished watching the clip, you can hit “next” to view the additional works under “Dance Hall Girl.”

Prints and the Pursuit of Knowledge in Early Modern Europe, Harvard Art Museums. September 6 – December 10, 2011.

A mammoth of a show examining the scientific investigations of the 16th century through prints created by Northern Renaissance artists. An exhibition rich in scholarship, walking through it felt like a journey through time and space. Gorgeous.

Beg For Your Life, 2006, Laurel Nakadate

Laurel Nakadate: Say You Love Me, Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard University. November 17 – December 22, 2011.

I love Laurel Nakadate. This eight video installation at the Carpenter Center hit all the right spots (no pun intended) with work that explores and pushes the boundaries of voyeurism, exhibitionism, and vulnerability. Most of the works were difficult to watch, but they all touched you in ways you never thought possible. Nakadate’s videos were moving, empathetic and funny.

Images of “For You I Feel Lucky” by Mark Sarver, Courtesy of Jessica Gath.

For You I Feel Lucky, Jessica Gath. The Hallway Gallery, Jamaica Plain. November 8, 2011.

A wonderful performance that lingered on until this very day. Click on the title for my review and be sure to check out Jessica at the DeCordova Biennial in 2012.

BONUS BEST OF 2011:

Lillian Bassman, The V-Back Evenings, Dress by Pauline Trigère, Model Suzy Parker, Harper's Bazaar, New York, July 1955. Courtesy of the artist.

Cocktail Culture: Ritual and Invention in American Fashion, 1920-1980, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design. April 15 – July 31, 2011.

What’s not to love about an exhibition on the culture of cocktails and their role in American fashion? This dazzling show featured fashion, jewelry, furniture, barware, textiles, photography and film. If you missed it, you missed a great show! Or you can catch it at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach.