2021 Triennial: Soft Water Hard Stone

2021 Triennial: Soft Water Hard Stone

New Museum

Amalie Smith, Clay Theory (still) 2019. 3D video, color, sound; 18:05 minutes. Courtesy of the artist.

October 26, 2021
2021 Triennial
Soft Water Hard Stone
October 28, 2021–January 23, 2022
New Museum
235 Bowery
New York, NY 10002

The 2021 New Museum Triennial, Soft Water Hard Stonebrings together works across mediums by 40 artists and collectives living and working in 23 countries. Now in its fifth installment, the exhibition is co-curated by Margot Norton, Allen and Lola Goldring Curator at the New Museum, and Jamillah James, Senior Curator, The Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (ICA LA), and presents new and recent work by a majority of artists who are exhibiting in a U.S. museum for the first time.

The title of the 2021 Triennial, Soft Water Hard Stone, is taken from a Brazilian proverb, versions of which are found across cultures:

Água mole em pedra dura, tanto bate até que fura
Soft water on hard stone hits until it bores a hole

The proverb can be said to have two meanings: if one persists long enough, the desired effect can eventually be achieved; and time can destroy even the most perceptibly solid materials. The title speaks to ideas of resilience and perseverance, and the impact that an insistent yet discrete gesture can have over time. It also provides a metaphor for resistance, since water—a constantly flowing and transient material—is capable of eventually dissolving stone—a substance associated with permanence, but also composed of tiny particles that can collapse under pressure.

In this moment of profound change, where structures once thought to be stable are disintegrating or on the edge of collapse, the 2021 Triennial recognizes artists re-envisioning traditional models, materials, and techniques beyond established paradigms. Their works exalt states of transformation, calling attention to the malleability of structures, porous and unstable surfaces, and the fluid and adaptable qualities of both technological and organic mediums. Throughout the exhibition, artists address the regenerative capabilities of the natural world and our inseparable relationship to it, and grapple with entrenched legacies of colonialism, displacement, and violence. Their works look back at overlooked histories and artistic traditions, while at the same time look forward to the creative potential that might give dysfunctional or discarded remains new life. It is through their reconfigurations and reimaginings that we are reminded not only of our temporality but of our adaptability—fundamental characteristics we share, and which keep us human.

Soft Water Hard Stone follows the previous installments of the New Museum Triennial, Younger Than Jesus (2009), The Ungovernables (2012), Surround Audience (2015), and Songs for Sabotage (2018).

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue copublished by the New Museum and Phaidon Press Limited. The catalogue is designed by Elizabeth Karp-Evans and Adam Turnbull of Studio Pacific and includes contributions from Jamillah James, Margot Norton, Karen Archey, Eunsong Kim, and Bernardo Mosqueira, and features original interviews with all forty artists and collectives participating in the exhibition.

A range of public programs also accompany the exhibition including a Curator Roundtable on October 28 at 7pm with Margot Norton, Allen and Lola Goldring Curator at the New Museum, and Jamillah James, Senior Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, in dialogue with Eva Respini, Barbara Lee Chief Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston; a panel discussion on the titular proverb Soft Water, Hard Stone: (But I Know) A Change Is Gonna Come on November 5 at 1pm with Triennial artists Laurie Kang, Gabriela Mureb, and catalogue contributor and curator Raphael Fonseca, moderated by Bernardo Mosquiera, ISLAA Curatorial Fellow at the New Museum; two December panel discussions with Triennial artists, including The Fluid City: From Death to Life, on December 2 at 7pm with artists Krista Clark, Harry Gould Harvey IV, and catalogue contributor and curator Carson Chan, moderated by Margot Norton; Mediated Bodies on December 16 at 1pm. with artists Kate Cooper, Jes Fan, and Jeneen Frei Njootli, moderated by Jeanette Bisschops, Curatorial Fellow at the New Museum; and a final panel event with Triennial artists, Colonial Legacies: Spaces as Witness, on January 13, 2022, at 1pm with artists Amy Lien and Enzo Camacho, Tanya Lukin Linklater, and catalogue contributor and poet Eunsong Kim, moderated by Jamillah James. Additionally, Triennial artist Erin Jane Nelson will lead a Workshop for Educators, free of charge, on December 9 from 4:30 to 6pm.


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New Museum
October 26, 2021

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