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 Brazilian proverb, versions of which are found across cultures: Soft water on hard stone hits until it bores a hole.
In this moment of profound change, where structures that were 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 potential of both technological and organic mediums. Throughout the exhibition, artists address the regenerative potential 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 toward the creative potential that might give dysfunctional or discarded remains new life. It is through their reconfigurations and reimaginings that we are reminded of not only our temporality, but also our adaptability – fundamental characteristics we share, and that keep us human.