The New Museum’s 2021 Triennial, “Soft Water Hard Stone” includes 40 international artists (and collectives), a broad selection brought together across race, gender, and culture, taking its own diversity for granted. These artists break down boundaries, as they combine industrial and organic materials; they collapse the distinction between fine art and craft; they echo the surrealists by basing works on “ready-made” found objects.
The show’s title is based on the Brazilian proverb, “soft water on hard stone hits until it bores a hole.” Focused on forms of resistance, the exhibition’s politics are subtle. Meanings are grounded in the forms and materials and (sometimes) the titles of the works themselves. As the curators comment: “politics are embedded rather than exposed.” The works are complex, multi-layered, personal, and slow to reveal their meanings. Here are two examples of how these artists work.
In “Nothing Further Beyond,” the Turkish artist Hera Buyuktasryan layers cleanly sliced pieces of carpet to create what looks like a showroom full of remnants. The artist, based in Istanbul, has said that carpeting creates a border between us and the coldness of the earth. Her stacked carpets look like bases of classical columns from the city’s ancient ruins, evoking layers of history and suggesting that borders themselves are really a fiction.
The Greek artist Iris Touliatou uses abandoned lighting fixtures she finds in offices in Athens. Her title, “Still Not Over You” suggests a powerful personal inspiration for the work, yet it looks like a minimalist sculpture. The light bulbs go on and off, so while the work seems to be dying it keeps sparking back to life. The metaphor applies to both the exhibition’s theme and her own regrets.
Throughout this remarkable exhibition artists mine their personal experiences to examine contemporary issues.
Mary Edwards, Ph.D
Career & Life Coach for Artists
“Left Brain Skills for Right Brained People”
As an artist coach, I bring a unique combination of business knowledge, art world experience, and professional coaching skill to my practice.