Unsettled Ground: Art and Environment from the Smart Museum Collection

March 22–June 26, 2022

How has the environment shaped artistic practice, and how can artistic form teach us to understand our local and planetary environment in new ways?

The artworks presented in Unsettled Ground speak to a generative conversation between art and the environment—whether understood as natural, human, or something altogether more complex—across multiple scales of time and space. Drawing on photography, prints, sculpture, and mixed media works from the Smart Museum’s permanent collection, this exhibition positions artists as astute observers of local, regional, and global ecologies, whose work offers new insight into our shared world. Themes of wonder, agency, dispossession, and resistance animate the objects on display, inviting us to reflect on the vital sustenance offered by the earth, as well as its fragility, and our responsibility to the planet and one another.

Organized by the Feitler Center for Academic Inquiry, this exhibition was collaboratively curated by Katerina Korola (PhD ’21) and the undergraduate and graduate students of her seminar, “Picturing the Earth: Art and Environment in the Modern Era.” Over Fall 2021, the students worked together to research, conceptualize, and develop interpretive materials for the exhibition. Student essays and creative projects, hosted on the exhibition’s digital platform, will offer additional insight into select works on display.


Arthur Amiotte, Giovanni Castrucci (Attributed to), Mukul Dey, Mark Dion, Ruth Duckworth, Minnie Evans, Terry Evans, Walker Evans, Emile Gallé, Leonard Havens, Bertha Evelyn Jaques, Sheila Hicks, Yun-Fei Ji, Glasfabrik Johann Loetz Witwe, Eli Lotar and Jean Painlevé, Richard Misrach, Timothy H. O’Sullivan, Toshio Shibata, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein, H. C. Westermann, and Joseph E. Yoakum.

Essays and additional resources

The related digital project for Unsettled Ground features student essays and creative responses to works included in the exhibition. A large print version of the exhibition texts (PDF) is also available to download.

Plan your visit

Reservations are strongly encouraged. Know before you go—please review our current health guidelines prior to your visit.

Top: Installation view, Unsettled Ground: Art and Environment from the Smart Museum Collection, 2022. Photo by Nathan Keay.

Above: H. C. Westermann, Deserted Airport N.M., from the portfolio: The Connecticut Ballroom, 1975, Four-color woodcut on Natsume wove paper. Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago, The H. C. Westermann Study Collection, Gift of the Estate of Joanna Beall Westermann, 2002.241.