Nancy Holt: Photoworks
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Photographs by practitioners of Land Art seem doomed to disappoint: look at the grid of images showing sunlight methodically brightening and shadowing the tubular concrete interiors of one of Nancy Holt's iconic 'Sun Tunnels' (1973-76) and you're bound to long for the Utah desert rather than New Bond Street. But this semi-retrospective fails better than most, partly because Holt is a joyously impure exponent of her art.
'Western Graveyards' (1968), a suite of square photographs of tumbledown grave markers in Virginia City, Nevada, and California (including, heartbreakingly, a handwritten one for 'Baby Baxter') shows that she can designate sculpture as well as make it. Anticipatory resonances of the decline of the West aside, the work finds the sweet spot between Land Art and Ed Ruscha-style photographic conceptualism.
Relatedly, the taxonomic 'California Sun Signs' (1972) documents signs with the word 'sun' in them (from 'Sundae' to 'Sun Air Drugs') with a William Eggleston-like pleasure in demotic design against deep blue skies: it's a way of possessing our nearest star, making it a sculptural absence-as-presence. The smoky 'Light and Shadow Photo-Drawings' (1978), meanwhile, find Holt engaged with studio experiments in casting light through holes and curves, creating smooth abstract geometries. Consider these – the controlled wonder of the 'Sun Tunnels' replayed as suave, compact neo-constructivism – and you won't wish you were anywhere but here.