Nancy Holt, Sun Tunnels
Nancy Holt

“Sun Tunnels” (1973-76)

Currently on show at the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art is a study of archival material showing how artists have shaped, and are shaped by, their surroundings. Spanning the 1830s to the 2000s, Off the Beaten Track: A Road Trip through the Archives of American Art brings together photographs, sketches, diaries, correspondence, and video recordings from the Archive’s collections. Curated by Mary Savig, Curator of Manuscripts, the exhibition is on show until June 3, 2018.

The exhibition includes a video showing the installation of Nancy Holt’s “Sun Tunnels” (1973-6) in the Great Basin Desert, Utah. This material is a part of the Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt Papers, donated to the Archives by Nancy Holt. Together with Holt’s film “Sun Tunnels” (1978), this documentation tells the story of the production of this iconic work of art, a part of the Holt-Smithson Foundation collection.

The above still shows Holt directing the placement of one of the four concrete cylinders of “Sun Tunnels.” Each tunnel is pierced with a different configuration of holes representing the stars of the constellations Draco, Perseus, Columba, and Capricorn. Their placement is aligned with the sun on the horizon (the sunrises and sunsets) on the solstices.

As Holt described in 1977, the work ‘is built on forty acres, which I bought in 1974 specifically as a site for the work. The land is in the Great Basin Desert in northwestern Utah, about four miles southeast of Lucin (pop. ten) and nine miles east of the Nevada border.’ A guide to visiting the work can be downloaded from the website of our local partner, Utah Museum of Fine Arts. The total length of “Sun Tunnels” is 86 ft. (26.21 m); each tunnel measures 18 ft. (5.49 m) long with an external diameter of 9 ft. 2-1/2 in. (2.74 m), internal diameter of 8 ft. (2.44 m) and wall thickness of 7 1/2 in. (2.29 m).

Still from Nancy Holt, “Sun Tunnels” (1978)
26:31 min, color, sound, 16 mm film on video
Distributed by Electronic Arts Intermix, New York