UMass Dartmouth to debut exhibition featuring new interpretations of campus sculpture on November 11

Nancy Holt: Massachusetts celebrates the artist's regional connections and showcases new research

Nancy Holt Piece 2
Nancy Holt (American 1938-2014) Detail of Electrical System, 1982, installed at UMass Dartmouth in 2021. Photographer: Viera Levitt. Courtesy Holt/Smithson Foundation. © Holt/Smithson Foundation, Licensed by VAGA at ARS, New York

UMass Dartmouth announces the multi-part exhibition Nancy Holt: Massachusetts, a major celebration of the renowned multimedia artist Nancy Holt and her connections to Massachusetts, and the Southcoast region.

Launching on November 11, 2021, the project will present new research into Holt’s UMass Dartmouth campus sculpture Spinwinder (1991) on its 30th anniversary. The sculpture, a tribute to the textile history of the region, will be newly interpreted through a new plaque. It will also be contextualized by a multi-part exhibition that will include the first posthumous United States presentation of Electrical System (1982), an immersive, room-sized artwork. These displays will be augmented by several public programs featuring local cultural partners and acclaimed researchers from across the United States.

Nancy Holt and Family
Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson at the wedding of Alexander and Ethel Holt Tate in New Bedford, MA, 1969. Polaroid. Courtesy Holt/Smithson Foundation and Nancy Holt Records. Archives of American Art. Smithsonian Institution. © Holt/Smithson Foundation, Licensed by VAGA at ARS, New York

“We are thrilled to have this exhibition project come to fruition through our collaboration with Holt/Smithson Foundation,” said Viera Levitt, UMass Dartmouth Gallery Director. “This exhibition presents new research about Spinwinder that will help the community further appreciate Holt’s site-specific work within our Paul Rudolph-designed campus landscape architecture.”

Much of Holt’s work focused on Massachusetts, in particular, her relatives in New Bedford, where her grandfather Samuel Holt had been a faculty member at the New Bedford Textile School, one of UMass Dartmouth’s predecessor institutions. Artifacts from his teaching work in Design and Weaving, and collectible ornaments that he gave to Nancy Holt, will be on view. In addition, the exhibition will highlight a model of Spinwinder made by Nancy Holt, one of four gifts to the University given by the Holt/Smithson Foundation.

“We are immensely pleased at Holt/Smithson Foundation to be thinking with UMass Dartmouth about Nancy Holt’s creative legacies, paying special attention to narratives local to New Bedford. Holt is an artist who expanded the places where art could be found, asking questions about how we might understand our place in the world. Nancy Holt: Massachusetts is a thoughtful exploration of Holt’s enduring investigation of how systems and place create structures for perception, bringing new discussions to Holt Studies,” said Lisa Le Feuvre, Director of the Holt/Smithson Foundation.

Nancy Holt Mini
Nancy Holt (American 1938-2014) Spinwinder maquette, ca. 1990-1991. Copper, wire, and wood. 18 in. x 25 in x 22.5 in. From the UMass Dartmouth Campus Art Collection, URC 133 at the Claire T. Carney Library Archives and Special Collections, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Acquired through a gift of Holt/Smithson Foundation © Holt/Smithson Foundation, Licensed by VAGA at ARS, New York. Photograph: Chris Diani

Holt embedded artifacts from the area textile industry within the foundation of her sculpture, and Dr. Rebecca Uchill, who was researching the sculpture, proposed the creation of a plaque explaining the buried objects, as well as the interactive qualities of the sculpture, per Holt’s intentions. The multi-part exhibition was awarded a $45,000 award from the Henry Luce Foundation’s American Art Program in May 2021.

While Spinwinder focuses on the world of Samuel Holt’s experiences, a substantial portion of the exhibition is dedicated to Nancy Holt’s Aunt Ethel, who lived on Locust Street in New Bedford. Nancy Holt produced two narrative artworks about the life and decline of Aunt Ethel – the video artwork Underscan (1974) and the artist book Ransacked (1980) that will also be presented.

Nancy Holt: Massachusetts will include public programs that are free and open to the public. On November 11, a full-day symposium will convene scholars from across the country to discuss themes of labor, systems, and place in Nancy Holt’s work. The symposium will feature keynote speaker Dr. Alena Williams, Assistant Professor of Visual Arts at UC San Diego, and curator of the international traveling exhibition Nancy Holt: Sightlines between 2010-2013. The symposium is co-organized with Dr. Kirsten Swenson, Associate Professor of Art History in the College of Fine Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at UMass Lowell.

Holt at construction
Nancy Holt and team during Spinwinder construction, week of September 8, 1991. Installation of aluminum tubing "spindles" and final touches. Claire T. Carney Library Archives and Special Collections, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

Also on November 11, the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park will unveil a new tour focused on Spinwinder. “The two decades of a close partnership between the University and the National Park Service have laid a strong foundation for programs that engage our shared audiences. Through this exhibition, the local academic and learning community will be offered an opportunity to see New Bedford as a city of intense textile production in addition to the many other complex histories for which it is already known,” said Park Superintendent Jennifer Smith.

The exhibition, symposium, and National Park Service tour will be open to the public on November 11, 2021, spanning the galleries and grounds of two UMass Dartmouth campuses: at CVPA’s main campus building at 285 Old Westport Road in Dartmouth, and the Star Store Campus at 715 Purchase Street in Downtown New Bedford during AHA! Night.


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