Virginia Dwan (1931-2022)
At Holt/Smithson Foundation we are honored that Virginia Dwan served on our Board of Directors from 2018 until her passing on September 4, 2022. Her wisdom, humor, curiosity, warmth, attention to detail, and vast expertise has contributed immensely to our young foundation. We will miss her a great deal.
Virginia was a visionary philanthropist and gallerist. In 1959 she launched the Dwan Gallery—first located in Los Angeles then, from 1966, in New York. Her vison was to support artists who were rethinking the possibilities of what art could be. Her gallery presented 134 exhibitions between 1959 and 1971, and in 2016 an exhibition at the National Gallery celebrated her remarkable contribution to the realm of art.
In 1966 Virginia was introduced to Robert Smithson by Sol LeWitt, initiating an enduring friendship. Smithson immediately joined the gallery, and over the following years Virginia would support, exhibit, and collect Smithson’s work—as well as share ideas and embark on numerous research trips. The Dwan Gallery was also where Nancy Holt would first exhibit her work, in the 1969 group exhibition Language III.
In 1967 Virginia travelled with Holt and Smithson “on a number of excursions through the mid-Atlantic region from New Jersey to Virginia, in search of available land for potential Earthworks.”  “When we could not find land that was available, we were inspired to organize the Earth Works show in the gallery” in 1968. Soon after “when Smithson told me he was going to make Spiral Jetty, I wanted to make funds available for him to do so. And I wanted to be there for it.”  For Virginia, supporting artists meant giving them the freedom and resources, as well as an analytic ear, to fulfill their ideas exactly as they wished to.
In an article published in 1982 Virginia recalled “Smithson was a man and an artist uniquely aware of his time, who had the courage to be of it, and in it, and for it. It was a privilege to share some of it with him.” At Holt/Smithson Foundation we echo Virginia’s own words: it was a privilege to share time with her, and to count her as an erudite and dear friend. She was a unique supporter of artists, and her contributions will endure long into the future.
Virginia Dwan visiting the Antietam National Battlefield with artists Dan Graham (pictured in background), Robert Smithson, and Nancy Holt in 1968.
Photograph: Nancy Holt