Working with natural elements like earth, wind, water and fire, the artists in Ear to the Ground show how nature can spur artistic innovation and spark new thinking about human culture and community. In their art, nature is not just as a resource to be protected or exploited, but rather a generative force with its own sentient power. Mining earth both as a material and a metaphor, the artists in this exhibition treat nature as a teacher: a model for negotiating the complexities of contemporary cultural life. Informed by a kind of elemental logic, their art envisions new ways we might relate to the natural world, as well as to one another.

Drawn predominantly from NOMA’s permanent collection, Ear to the Ground features work by 18 artists across vastly different media, cultures and time periods who each reference earth and element in very different ways. Some, like Bosco Sodi and Clyde Connell, make materials like dirt and mud their primary medium. Others, like Pat Steir, Dan Alley and Diedrick Brackens, turn to nature as a collaborator or conspirator in the creation of their art, casting sculptures directly upon the ground, or dying textiles with water drawn from rivers and oceans. For others, nature functions more metaphorically, as in the work of artists like Ronald Lockett, Dawn DeDeaux and Sara Madandar, who reference natural processes like weathering, disintegration and sedimentation to speak to current social and political issues ranging from climate change to questions surrounding immigration and cultural belonging.

Presenting more conventional artistic media like painting and sculpture alongside more experimental work in video, textiles and performance, Ear to the Ground considers the continued resonance of natural materials and processes for artists working from the 1970s to now. For each of these artists, nature is not just a source of formal inspiration, but also a means of imagining new forms of community, reciprocity and connection to the natural world.

Represented artists include Dan Alley, Lynda Bengalis, Diedrich Brackens, Edward Burtynsky, Chandra McCormick, Clyde Connell, Dawn DeDeaux, Courtney Egan,  Jorge Otero Escobar, Mikhail Karikis, Ronald Lockett, Sara Madandar, Cristina Molina, Jennifer Odem, Bosco Sodi, and Pat Steir.



Jorge Otero Escobar

Digital print

53 ¼ x 35 ½ in.

Collection of David Borde ©Jorge Otero Escobar



Dan Alley

Poured aluminum

50 x 156 in.

Collection of the Artist, © Dan Alley Studio 

Something Lost


Sarah Madandar

Canvas and spray paint

64 x 46 in.

Collection of the artist © Sara Madandar



Ronald Lockett

Found tin, pencil and nails on wood

48 ½ x 51 ½ in.

Museum purchase and gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation from the William S. Arnett Collection, 2017.172 ©Ronald Lockett

Earth Mound


Jennifer Odem

Plaster, soil and brass pressure valve

60 x 36 x 36 in.

Collection of the artist, ©Jennifer Odem

Children of Unquiet


Mikhail Karikis

Single channel video with directional speakers

Collection of the artist, ©2014 Mikhail Karikis

Study for Wading Still (Bend, Bow, Pull)


Diedrick Brackens

Cotton dyed with Mississippi River water

Collection of the artist © Diedrick Brackens



Bosco Sodi

Fired clay, 25 clay timbers

4 x 19 ½ x 4 inches (each)

Gift of the artist and Paul Kasmin Gallery, © Studio Bosco Sodi, Donation courtesy the artist and Kasmin Gallery



Lynda Benglis

Cast aluminum

67 x 59 ¼ x 60 in.

Museum purchase with funds provided by The Helis Foundation. Additional funds provided by the Frierson Art Purchase Fund, ©Lynda Benglis

Persian Waterfall


Pat Steir

Oil on canvas

88 x 107 in.

Promised and partial gift of H. Russell Albright MD in memory of Michael P. Meyers, Photography by Roman Alokhin, ©Pat Steir