Our Scholarly Text Program commissions and publishes new writing on single artworks by Holt and/or Smithson.

A tool for researchers at all stages, our Scholarly Text Program invites thinkers from a range of disciplines to write 1,200 words on a work by Holt and/or Smithson that is necessary and urgent for today. The authors explore how Holt and Smithson’s ideas resonate through artistic and cultural production in the present, exploring topics ranging from geology to ecology, poetry, architecture, science fiction, public art, sculpture, drawing, film, exhibition histories, philosophy, and all the stops between. The Scholarly Text Program will ultimately publish two essays on each work, presenting differing opinions and approaches. Each essay includes images selected by the author, a short bibliography, citation reference, and endnotes pointing to the author’s references.

Scholarly texts

Florida, Man: Robert Smithson’s Hypothetical Continent in Shells: Lemuria

Sean J Patrick Carney
January 2024
ISBN: 978-1-952603-34-1

Before sunrise on an already soupy Monday in mid-August 2023, scores of white contractor pickups from mainland Florida clogged the causeway bridge onto Sanibel, a narrow, crescent barrier island curving twelve miles along the Sunshine State’s southwestern Gulf Coast. Ten months earlier, Hurricane Ian had thrashed the island, leveling homes and businesses, disemboweling infrastructure, and clobbering complex, verdant ecosystems filled with alligators, marsh rabbits, black racer snakes, river otters, iguanas, gopher tortoises, and legions of bird species.

Second Stage Injector

Teresa Hantke
January 2024
ISBN: 978-1-952603-33-4
Robert Smithson is known for large scale land art pieces, in which center and periphery play an important role on the spatial level. He repeatedly quoted the French philosopher Blaise Pascal’s statement “Nature is an infinite sphere, whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere” in his essays. His interest in “fringes” serves as a thematic continuum throughout his entire body of work, which also includes a series of collages and drawings created between 1963 and 1964.

Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Airport Project, 1966-67

Trey Burns
January 2024
ISBN: 978-1-952603-32-7
Robert Smithson consulted with the engineering and architectural firm Tippetts-Abbett-McCarthy-Stratton (TAMS) from 1966 to 1967 on the design of Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Airport (DFW). This opportunity was spurred by a panel discussion featuring Smithson titled “Shaping the Environment: The Artist and the City” at Yale University in 1966.

Spinwinder (1991)

Rebecca Uchill
October 2023
ISBN: 978-1-952603-30-3

In a moment captured in a photograph at the start of the twentieth century, in the knitting room of the New Bedford Textile School, three students stand at individual machines. Each holds a circular creel from which spooled yarn was drawn up, then down, through a mechanized system that knits a tubular shape. I encountered this image in the archives of the Claire T. Carney Library at UMass Dartmouth, where I worked from 2017 until 2022 in a lecturer position, configured to combine teaching and curatorial work (later with the title Director of Community Engagement Initiatives).

Upside Down Trees: Terminal Transmissions

Adam Lauder
October 2023
ISBN: 978-1-952603-29-7

Robert Smithson’s Upside Down Trees (1969) form a circuit with the artist’s parallel series of earth maps, one that materializes and satirizes period visions of the growing informationalization of art and perception.

How to Share Space: Nancy Holt’s "Studio Tour: Daytime"

Thomas Feulmer
October 2023
ISBN: 978-1-952603-28-0
Hello. Welcome to the back room. This simple greeting spoken in Nancy Holt’s calm, commanding voice is the opening of one of her earliest audio tours. Studio Tour: Daytime (two parts: October 30, 1971 and January 5, 1972; revised on March 29, 1972) sits at an interesting spot chronologically in Holt’s work incorporating sound. It was made after Stone Ruin Tour I and II (1967 and 1968), and before Tour of the John Weber Gallery (February 5–March 1, 1972).

Electrical System: An Archaeology of an Artwork

William T. Carson
October 2022
ISBN: 978-1-952603-27-3
How do you present a site-responsive installation in a new location when the artist who created the work cannot be consulted? For Nancy Holt’s Electrical System, this was the exact question that had to be asked.

Three Desert Monuments: Revisiting Robert Smithson’s 1966 Collages

Ali Ismail Karimi
October 2022
ISBN: 978-1-952603-26-6

In 1966, Robert Smithson produced three proposals for monuments in desert settings: Grave Mounds with Object, Proposal for a Monument on the Red Sea, and Proposal for a Monument at Antarctica. These proposals for monuments in Bahrain, Egypt, and Antarctica were made by overlaying illustrations of crystalline forms clipped from science books onto found images.

Asphalt Rundown

Serena Solin
October 2022
ISBN: 978-1-952603-24-2

In 1969 and 1970, Robert Smithson created three “pour” sculptures that demonstrated his mastery of a difficult and deadly medium: entropy. In all three, an industrial material was prepared and poured downhill at a remote or neglected site and left to solidify.

Nancy Holt, "Underscan" (1974)

James Boaden
February 2022
ISBN: 978-1-952603-23-5

We locate ourselves in various ways: phenomenologically we understand our bodies within our surroundings, cartographically we measure our position on the earth, imaginatively we locate ourselves in relation to places we call home as much as those we have never visited. Much of Nancy Holt’s work pays close attention to these interlinked processes of locating. Holt’s 1974 video Underscan brings to the fore the act of imaginative location, and its ties to family and care. This act of locating had a lasting impact on her practice.

Here Before & Where Beyond: "Dark Star Park"

Gretchen Ernster Henderson
February 2022
ISBN: 978-1-952603-22-8
Visiting Nancy Holt’s Dark Star Park (1979-1984) in Rosslyn, Virginia, you may walk among trees, reflecting pools, and cement spheres. In a car, you may bypass with barely a glance. Streets lead out of this suburban compression: north to Georgetown and south toward Arlington Cemetery, with highway onramps east to Washington, D.C. and west toward Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

Britannia Beach Project

Ron Graziani
February 2022
ISBN: 978-1-952603-19-8

It was early in December 1969, while still in negotiations with the government of British Columbia over securing the Miami Islet site for his Island of Broken Glass proposal

Everything and Nothing: On Nancy Holt’s "Sun Tunnels" (1973–76)

Julian Myers-Szupinska
February 2022
ISBN: 978-1-952603-18-1
Let me tell you some things I like about Earthworks. I use the designation “Earthworks” advisedly. Holt referred to her work as “Land Art,” seeing the quasi-genre of Earth Art and Earthworks as belonging to an earlier group of male artists, despite them also being her contemporaries, peers, and fellow travelers.

Nancy Holt's "Dark Star Park"

Angela Anderson Adams
September 2020
ISBN: 978-1-952603-16-7

Monument wars contesting public space. Controversies arising over renovations of Brutalist landscape design. As the custodian of a world-renowned artist-designed park now in its fourth decade, these recent developments resonate.

Haunted: Robert Smithson’s "My House is a Decayed House," 1962

Suzaan Boettger
October 2020
ISBN 978-1-952603-20-4

“History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors.” If the sardonic analogy sounds like Robert Smithson, you’re close: it was written by his favorite poet, T.S. Eliot. The line could apply to the aged Renaissance and Baroque architecture jumbled on a dusky hillside that Smithson depicted in a gouache, ink and collage painting on paper in 1962.

30 Below

Sarah Hamill
February 2021
ISBN 978-1-952603-13-6

Inside, we observe nature as if through the wrong end of a telescope: the sky above appears detached; clouds pass as if on film. When occupied, the tower is converted into an observatory from which natural phenomena are contemplated as images, their own representation.

--Craig Owens, “Environmental Art,” Art at the Olympics, 1980

Voice and Vision in "Swamp"

Lori Zippay
February 2021
ISBN 978-1-952603-12-9

The film opens with a disembodied male voice and a landscape in motion. “Just walk in a straight line,” the man directs, as the camera advances tentatively towards an expanse of tall grasses. “I think, I think I am,” replies an unseen woman, the camera inching forward into the reeds. “Straight in…to that clump,” the man continues. “It’s OK, Nan, you’re on fairly solid ground. Straight in. Just go right in.…”

Robert Smithson’s "Texas Overflow" (1970)

Leigh A. Arnold
January 2021
ISBN 978-1-952603-21-1

In early December 1970 Robert Smithson traveled to the Dallas-Fort Worth area at the invitation of the Northwood Institute—a private business college located just outside of Cedar Hill, Texas.

Pine Barrens

Kelly Baum
January 2021
ISBN 978-1-952603-11-2

In 1975, Nancy Holt created Pine Barrens, an experimental film shot on a tract of land in the dead center of New Jersey known mostly for its cranberry bogs, sand pits, and stumpy pine trees. Pine Barrens is a brilliant rumination on one of modernity’s central dialectical knots: the relationship between center and margin. That it does so not from a metropolis but from a periphery lodged within a periphery makes it prescient indeed. As Holt well recognized, no better place to explore this particular antinomy exists than the Pine Barrens.

Island of Broken Glass

Charlie Hailey
May 2020
ISBN 978-1-952603-10-5

Robert Smithson searched for lost islands. He might have found one in Miami Islet, but a telegram from the Canadian government in January of 1970, just two days after the seventieth anniversary of the shipwreck that gave the island its name, stopped the Island of Broken Glass project as it would also halt one hundred tons of green-tinted glass on its way to Vancouver’s coastline.

Nancy Holt: Zeroing In

Sarah Hayden
May 2020
ISBN 978-1-952603-09-9

Nancy Holt strove to provoke the “concretisation of perception” by isolating “limited visions through holes and things” that would cause people to “really focus, really perceive intensely the thing seen.”1  Holt’s 1973 video Zeroing In is a conversation, a game, and an experiment.

Mono Lake: Ring of Fire

Aurora Tang
June 2020
ISBN 978-1-952603-08-2
Mono Lake opens in dramatic flames set to a cinematic soundtrack by Michel Legrand, before transporting viewers to the gravel roads of the Eastern Sierra. The film was shot on July 28, 1968 by Nancy Holt, Robert Smithson, and Michael Heizer, and edited by Holt in 2004. We join the artists on a road trip through the “frost and fire” glacial and volcanic landscape, to Mono Lake, an ancient lake in the Basin and Range. Mono Lake serves as a portal to this curious landscape, shot during a pivotal time for each of the artists, and for the United States. In 1968, while seismic social and political shifts were underway across the country, cultural boundaries were also changing, and Holt, Smithson, and Heizer were forging new artistic terrain.

Robert Smithson, "A Nonsite (Franklin, New Jersey)" (1968)

Phyllis Tuchman
May 2020
ISBN 978-1-952603-05-1

In 1968, Robert Smithson realized an important group of works he collectively called Nonsites. This series features bin-like structures in which the artist deposited rocks, sand, broken concrete, and other elements he collected  at various sites in New Jersey. Accompanying these sculptures, Smithson hung on gallery walls photographs he’d snapped at the same Garden State locations, as well as fragments of maps that could lead other people to these places.

Swampy Ecologies

Bridget Crone
May 2020
ISBN 978-1-952603-07-5

You are in the middle of an expanse of tall thick dry grass, head height. As you look and move through this, a world unfurls that you become immersed in feeling, hearing, seeing, and experiencing fully in each moment. Expansive. The experience feels vivid and rich despite the difficulties of movement across uneven ground and against a fierce wind. Immersive. You cannot see beyond your immediate surroundings. There is no horizon.

Doubling Down: Nancy Holt’s Stone Enclosure: Rock Rings

Barbara Miller
June 2019
ISBN 978-1-952603-00-6

Circles everywhere! Upon entering Nancy Holt’s 2018 solo exhibition at Dia Art Foundation in Chelsea, New York City the observer is engulfed by a network of flat circular line drawings, round cast shadows, and orbicular light pools. Circles also appear dimensionally: as dark voids cut into walls and as mirrored surfaces shaped into orbs. Very tangibly Holt’s circles telescope out, forming lens-less viewfinders. As one stoops to look through cast-iron spyholes, for example in Dual Locators (1972), a tunneling effect occurs: circles become layered onto circles.

A heap of Language

Craig Dworkin
May 2019
ISBN 978-1-952603-03-7

σάρμα εἰκῇ κεχυμένον ὁ κάλλιστος, φησὶν Ἡράκλειτος, [ὁ] κόσμος

[the most beautiful world is like a heap of rubble tossed down in confusion]

—Heraclitus of Ephesus 

Spiral Jetty

Gary Shapiro
November 2019
ISBN 978-1-952603-02-0

Robert Smithson designed and directed the construction of his iconic work the Spiral Jetty in April 1970. The Jetty is a site-specific work, meant to interact with changing conditions of the surrounding water, land, and atmosphere. While located in a relatively barren, unpopulated place, Smithson chose the site not only because of the vast surrounding landscape, but with reference to nearby abandoned oil rigs and the Golden Spike monument marking the 1869 completion of the transcontinental railway.