New exhibition celebrates artist Nancy Holt’s regional connections, features Holt’s room-sized installation Electrical System, and showcases gifts of artworks by Holt/Smithson Foundation
Today, UMass Dartmouth and the College of Visual and Performing Arts announced a $45,000 award from the Henry Luce Foundation’s American Art Program for the exhibition Nancy Holt: Massachusetts. The exhibition celebrating the Massachusetts-born artist Nancy Holt will feature scholarly research, public programming, and the post-humous American premiere of Holt’s room-sized installation Electrical System (1982).
A leader in art funding since 1982, the Luce Foundation's American Art Program supports innovative museum projects nationwide that advance the role of visual arts of the United States in an open and equitable society, and the potential of museums to serve as forums for art-centered conversations that celebrate creativity, explore difference, and seek common ground. The Foundation aims to empower museums and arts organizations to reconsider accepted histories, foreground the voices and experiences of underrepresented artists and cultures, and welcome diverse collaborators and communities into dialogue.
“UMass Dartmouth is honored to receive the support of the Henry Luce Foundation to bolster our efforts to reinvigorate the study of artists with links to the region, through exciting research and fresh approaches,” said Dr. A. Lawrence Jenkens, Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA). “I applaud Dr. Rebecca Uchill’s scholarship and vision for this ambitious initiative and commend the considerable efforts of Gallery Director Viera Levitt and other CVPA contributors in support of its broad reach."
The initiative, led by CVPA faculty member Dr. Rebecca K. Uchill, is centered on Holt’s Spinwinder, a 1991 public sculpture that sits prominently at the entrance to the UMass Dartmouth campus that is celebrating its 30th anniversary. Holt designed this site-specific artwork to include references to the region’s industrial history, including an homage to her grandfather, Samuel Holt, who was a faculty member at the New Bedford Textile School, one of the University’s predecessor institutions. Spinwinder contains artifacts from area textile mills embedded in the foundation, which have since been the subject of myth and curiosity on campus.
“The artwork was intended to evoke stories of social histories of labor,” said Dr. Rebecca K. Uchill, the exhibition curator. “It was not known what was placed underneath the sculpture, or whether the artifacts were meant to be recovered like a time capsule. My recent research does not support the time capsule theory – but Holt always intended for the artwork to include a plaque explaining her ideas and information about the artifacts. The Henry Luce Foundation grant, along with the generosity of partners like the Holt/Smithson Foundation, will allow the University to fulfill that vision and expand the interpretation of Holt’s work.”
Part of Nancy Holt: Massachusetts is the display of items from Holt’s personal collection, donated by Holt/Smithson Foundation, an artist-endowed foundation dedicated to furthering the study of Nancy Holt and her husband, the artist Robert Smithson. The Foundation selected UMass Dartmouth to be the recipient of the gift of a model of Spinwinder and a landscape painting by Samuel Holt, titled Holt’s Hope. Both will be included in the exhibition, along with artworks about Nancy Holt’s relationship with her Aunt Ethel, a New Bedford resident, that prominently feature documentation of Aunt Ethel’s Locust Street home.
“At Holt/Smithson Foundation we are delighted to be growing our partnership with the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth,” said Lisa Le Feuvre, Executive Director of the Holt/Smithson Foundation. “This exhibition and conference will make a significant contribution to the understanding of Nancy Holt’s rich contributions to the world of art and ideas. Holt recalibrated the limits of art, changing what art can be and where art can be found, embracing the new media of her time. Across five decades she asked questions about how we might understand our place in the world, investigating perception, systems, and place. Holt’s Massachusetts history makes this a unique partnership, and we are honored to be thinking together with the academics, staff, and students at the University.”
Holt/Smithson Foundation will also lend the installation Electrical System (1982) to the exhibition. This dynamic, large-scale illuminated artwork exposes the electrical infrastructures surrounding its display, responding to the specifics of each exhibition space. Over the past year, three senior UMass Dartmouth electrical engineering students, Shedricke Mulbah, Derrick Manu, and Matthew LaVoie, worked closely with the Foundation on designing this immersive room of bent circuits.
“This was my first time doing something like this — creating a structural piece and coming up with designs based on the historical specifications. When we finally got to the end of the project, the finished project will look just as it was in the pictures. Seeing the results of how everything turned out was marvelous — just knowing that we, as a team, completed the project,” said Shedricke Mulbah, an Electrical Engineering senior from Worcester, MA.
The future of Nancy Holt: Massachusetts will include a symposium convening scholars from across the country to discuss themes of labor, systems, and artifacts in Nancy Holt’s work on November 11, the date of the exhibition opening. The exhibition will take place in the CVPA Campus Gallery on the UMass Dartmouth main campus and the University Art Gallery on the Star Store campus in historic downtown New Bedford.