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Ear to the Ground: Earth and Element in Contemporary Art


  • New Orleans Museum of Art One Collins C. Diboll Circle New Orleans, Louisiana, 70124 (map)

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, Olafur Eliasson, Jorge Otero Escobar, Mikhail Karikis, Ronald Lockett, Sara Madandar, Cristina Molina, Jennifer Odem, Bosco Sodi, and Pat Steir.