Soft Water Hard Stone

Fifth New Museum Triennial


“2021 Triennial: Soft Water Hard Stone,” 2021. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York. Photo: Dario Lasagni
From October 28, 2021 until January 23, 2022
New York, NY...The 2021 New Museum Triennial, “Soft Water Hard Stone,” brings together works across mediums by forty artists and collectives living and working in twenty-three countries. On view from October 28, 2021 to January 23, 2022, and 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.
The proverb that gives the exhibition its title was the inspiration for a work by Gabriela Mureb, Machine #4 – stone (ground) (2017). The work consists of a small motor that activates an aluminum rod that repeatedly hits a stone in a steady staccato. Over time, the rod will eventually bore a hole in the stone, creating a fine powder that accumulates and dissolves into the surrounding atmosphere. Depending on the duration of the work’s display, this hole will alter the stone’s weight, potentially causing it to topple over. One of the smallest works included in the exhibition, the piece provides a potent metaphor for ideas surrounding determination, reciprocity, and revolution, as the antique motor steadily hums.
“2021 Triennial: Soft Water Hard Stone,” 2021. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York. Photo: Dario Lasagni
“2021 Triennial: Soft Water Hard Stone,” 2021. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York. Photo: Dario Lasagni
“2021 Triennial: Soft Water Hard Stone,” 2021. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York. Photo: Dario Lasagni
“2021 Triennial: Soft Water Hard Stone,” 2021. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York. Photo: Dario Lasagni
“2021 Triennial: Soft Water Hard Stone,” 2021. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York. Photo: Dario Lasagni
“2021 Triennial: Soft Water Hard Stone,” 2021. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York. Photo: Dario Lasagni
“2021 Triennial: Soft Water Hard Stone,” 2021. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York. Photo: Dario Lasagni
“2021 Triennial: Soft Water Hard Stone,” 2021. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York. Photo: Dario Lasagni
“2021 Triennial: Soft Water Hard Stone,” 2021. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York. Photo: Dario Lasagni
“2021 Triennial: Soft Water Hard Stone,” 2021. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York. Photo: Dario Lasagni
“2021 Triennial: Soft Water Hard Stone,” 2021. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York. Photo: Dario Lasagni
“2021 Triennial: Soft Water Hard Stone,” 2021. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York. Photo: Dario Lasagni
“2021 Triennial: Soft Water Hard Stone,” 2021. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York. Photo: Dario Lasagni
“2021 Triennial: Soft Water Hard Stone,” 2021. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York. Photo: Dario Lasagni
“2021 Triennial: Soft Water Hard Stone,” 2021. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York. Photo: Dario Lasagni
“2021 Triennial: Soft Water Hard Stone,” 2021. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York. Photo: Dario Lasagni
“2021 Triennial: Soft Water Hard Stone,” 2021. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York. Photo: Dario Lasagni
“2021 Triennial: Soft Water Hard Stone,” 2021. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York. Photo: Dario Lasagni