Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, and raised in New Jersey, Holt graduated from Tufts University in 1960 with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology. She soon moved to New York where she began working in film, video, sound art, and installation with such prominent artists as Michael Heizer, Sol Lewitt, Richard Serra, Carl Andre, Eva Hesse, and future husband Robert Smithson. In her creation of site-specific environmental works, Holt was focused on how viewers perceived the artwork rather than the object itself. Her extensive Locator series begun in 1971 provided a new method of observing natural phenomena. Holt’s best-known piece is Sun Tunnels (1973-1976), which sits on 40 acres in Utah’s Great Basin Desert. It consists of four, 22-ton concrete pipes and is oriented toward the sunrises and sunsets of the winter and summer solstices. Stone Enclosure: Rock Rings (1977-1978) in Bellingham, Washington, is also from the series. In the 1970s Holt made a series of pioneering films and videos, including several collaborations with Smithson and one, Boomerang, with Serra that focused on the disorienting experience of listening to her own recorded voice. In 1984 Holt designed Dark Star Park in Arlington, Virginia. It features large spheres resembling fallen stars and was Arlington’s first major commissioned art project. She also created Views Through a Sand Dune (1972) on Narragansett Beach, Rhode Island; Hydra’s Head (1974) along the Niagara River in Lewiston, New York; Astral Grating (1987) in a New York City subway station; Sky Mound (1988) in the New Jersey Meadowlands; and Up and Under (1998) in Nokia, Finland.
Holt was awarded five National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, two New York Creative Artist Fellowships, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and an Honorary Doctorate from the University of South Florida in Tampa. She passed away at the age of 75 in Manhattan from leukemia.