The Art World at Home: The Holt-Smithson Foundation’s Lisa Le Feuvre Is Bird-Watching and Inviting Artists to Work on a Private Island

We caught up with the head of the Holt-Smithson Foundation.

Lisa Le Feuvre, executive director, Holt-Smithson Foundation. Photo courtesy of Claudine Hartzel.
Lisa Le Feuvre, executive director, Holt-Smithson Foundation. Photo courtesy of Claudine Hartzel.

Lisa Le Feuvre, the head of the Holt-Smithson Foundation, which she has led since 2017, spends a lot of time reading. In fact, it’s how she begins most of her mornings, although she doesn’t consider it a luxury. Education for all is one of her passions.

We spoke with Le Feuvre about her recent work with the artists’ foundation, what she’s been reading of late, and why she advocates for literacy initiatives.

What are you working on right now?

We are a young organization, and with each day, we are building the roots of Holt–Smithson Foundation. At the core of our foundation’s work is establishing information on each work Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson made, so we have an ongoing pattern of research where we talk, listen, read, and frown over the biographies of each artwork.

This year we launch our first series of artist commissions and our research fellowship program, as well as a full schedule of events, exhibitions, and publications. The next exhibition up is “Light and Language” at Lismore Castle Arts in March, where Nancy Holt’s work is presented in a dialogue with the work of A.K. Burns, Matthew Day Jackson, Dennis McNulty, Charlotte Moth, and Katie Paterson.

Walk us through the when, where, and how of your approach to this project on a regular day.

So much of what we do at foundation starts with thinking with as many people as we can. I try, but do not always succeed, to start my day by reading to make sure creative ideas are fueled, and that there is space to think. Most days involve a lot of talking, be that among the foundation team or with our collaborative partners. Because we are growing, we strive to make sure that our research is always captured so that we can share it, which means taking time to record what we learn.

What is your favorite part of your house and why? 

My bookshelves. I love the world of ideas that books open, and to have the luxury of a full bookcase on every wall of where I live makes being at home painless.

Lisa Le Feuvre's bookcase. Courtesy Lisa Le Feuvre.

Lisa Le Feuvre’s bookcase. Courtesy Lisa Le Feuvre.

What is bothering you right now?

Everything. The pandemic has amplified the structural inequity of our present. The question is, what can an individual do? To sit and complain is not enough—we all have a responsibility to take action that shifts, even in a miniscule way, this structure we have inherited into a more ethical direction. It bothers me that there is so much work to do, and it bothers me that there are so many obstacles to doing this. Just after the inauguration, the wise words of poet Amanda Gorman were running in my head: “There is always light if we are brave enough to see it. If only we are brave enough to be it.”

What was the last thing that made you laugh out loud?

Shamefully, a dog video on Instagram five minutes ago. Please don’t judge me.

Are there any movies, music, podcasts, publications, or works of art that have made a big impact on you recently? If so, why?

There are a few things that I can’t stop talking about. might be at home all the time, but I will take all available forms of communication to talk as much as I can to people outside my household. In September I read Rachel Carson’s 1955 book The Edge of the Sea and it has made me think completely differently about the constantly changing realm between the sea and the land. I have been watching Steve McQueen’s “Small Axe” film series. His precision of looking and storytelling in these films have burned them into my own mind. And I’ve been listening to the radio station Barranquilla Estero because it is perfect for kitchen dancing.

What’s your favorite work of art in the house and why?

I am not an art collector, but my home is full of objects full of evocative memories. And sometimes art slips in. Today, as I tap on my keyboard in response to these questions, my eyes fix on a pair of retablos made by a friend in New Mexico: one is San Antonio de Fauci, the other San Jorge de Floyd.

A <em>retablo</em> of Anthony Fauci. Courtesy Lisa Le Feuvre.

A retablo of Anthony Fauci. Courtesy Lisa Le Feuvre.

Are there any causes you support that you would like to share? If so, what, and why is it important?

Education for all. Knowledge is, after all, power. Enabling learning is so important, and for that, teaching must be open to everyone: The ability to read. Access to reading materials. Encouragement to follow ideas. This is not a cause; it is an imperative, and at every turn I try to advocate and enable more reading by more people. When we read, we learn what others think, and with this we can open our minds and oftentimes undo assumptions.

What is your guilty pleasure?

In Santa Fe we have the most beautiful light. Although early morning is not naturally my friend, I’ve picked up the habit of enjoying seeing birds at first light. At home we have built an unnecessary complicated “bird restaurant” from branches and ropes outside of the kitchen window, and are ordering sacks of luxury bird food to lure more diners. Monitoring the restaurant seems to occupy the first couple of hours of my mornings these days, and extending the dining options is the perfect distraction.

What’s going on in the kitchen these days? Any projects? And triumphs or tragedies? 

I love eating. At 7:30 p.m., the office door is closed and the discussion of what to cook begins. As I am typing now, at 9:30 a.m., I am thinking of some fish lurking in the fridge and of a Yucatán ceviche recipe.

Lisa Le Feuvre's kitchen. Courtesy Lisa Le Feuvre.

Lisa Le Feuvre’s kitchen. Courtesy Lisa Le Feuvre.

Which two fellow art-world people, living or dead, would you like to convene for dinner, and why?

Well, it would have to be Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson. I would want to ask them what their hopes would be for a foundation bearing their names, what their thoughts would be on the current version of the present, and then there are those granular research questions… .


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