Art

The New Museum 2021 Triennial Seeks Meaning at the End of the World

“2021 Triennial: Soft Water Hard Stone,” 2021. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York.
“2021 Triennial: Soft Water Hard Stone,” 2021. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York.

The New Museum’s 2021 Triennial is a coy, searching show. It seeps and creeps. It hints at modes of being, existing and making that defy human timescales. As the art institution’s last two triennials organized themselves around some metaphor of resistance—“The Ungovernables” (2012), “Songs for Sabotage” (2018)—so too does this year’s “Soft Water, Hard Stone,” which is taken from a Brazilian proverb (a version of which also exists in Chinese) about water eroding stone as a model for slow, quiet change. However, this edition feels distinctly less anthropocentric; it’s not so confident that human knowledge will be the way out, turning instead to the natural world. This is less the language of now, and more of always, already.

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