Soft Water Hard Stone, the fifth New Museum Triennial, brings together works across mediums by forty artists and collectives from around the world.
The title of the 2021 Triennial, Soft Water Hard Stone, is taken from a well-known proverb in Brazil: 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 in time. It also provides a metaphor for resistance, as water—a constantly flowing and often underestimated 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 that were once thought to be stable are revealed to be precarious, broken, or on the verge of collapse, the 2021 Triennial recognizes artists reimagining traditional models, materials, and techniques beyond established institutional paradigms. Their works exalt states of transformation, calling attention to the malleability of structures, porous and unstable surfaces, and the fluid and adaptable potential of both technological and organic media. The works included in the exhibition look back toward overlooked artistic traditions and technological building blocks, while at the same time look forward toward the immaterial, the transitory, and the creative potential that might give dysfunctional or discarded remains new life.