The fifth New Museum Triennial was opened on October 28 and will be held until January 23, 2022. The exhibition was curated by Margot Norton, curator of the New Museum, and Jamillah James, curator of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (ICA LA).
The title of the exhibition, Soft Water Hard Stone, comes from a Brazilian proverb that can also be found in many other cultures and is equivalent to the proverb “dripping water hollows out stone.”
This proverb is used in two senses: if something lasts long enough, the desired effect can eventually be achieved, and if given time, even the softest water can destroy the hardest substance. In other words, the intended purpose can be achieved through persistence, not force.
In this sense, the exhibition talks about the personal, cultural, and political changes with which the people of today struggle within society, implying that, no matter how rigid the structure and system, significant changes can begin with small ones.
Forty artists(including a team) from 23 countries, including two artists of Korean descent, participated in the exhibition.
Kang Seung Lee (b. 1978 Seoul, South Korea; lives and works in Los Angeles, CA, United States) creates graphite drawings, photos, videos, installations, and archival materials to highlight the other side of mainstream history. Lee particularly brings out the stories of LGBTQ figures who are under-recognized in art history.
The exhibition presents Kang’s signature works, such as graphite drawings and embroidery works; for example, Lee has meticulously depicted a pebble collected from Tapgol Park in Seoul, an important site where Korean gay rights activist Joonsoo Oh campaigned for human rights during his lifetime;
He has copied English film director and gay rights activist Derek Jarman’s diary with golden thread on sambe (Korean hemp cloth); and he is exhibiting a live cactus that originally belonged to Harvey Bernard Milk, the first openly gay politician in the United States, and its drawing.
Laurie Kang (b. 1985 Toronto, Canada; lives and works in Toronto, Canada) works with photography, sculpture, installation, and video. Kang’s works are mostly known for emphasizing materiality by misusing photographic materials.
For instance, Kang utilizes light-sensitive photographic paper in relation to organic materials, chemicals used in darkrooms, or uncontrollable natural light to create artworks that respond sensitively to the environment.
For the triennial, Kang has interpreted the gallery’s architecture from a new perspective to emphasize the physical experience of the viewer. The temporary drywall typically used in museums to divide space is made of photographic film and flexible track that changes sensitively according to the environment and time.
In 1977, the New Museum was founded by Marsha Tucker, the first female curator of the Whitney Museum of Art. It is known for being a non-collecting institution to reflect the constantly changing status of contemporary art.
Established in 2009, the New Museum Triennial is an international contemporary art exhibition that recurs every three years to introduce important emerging artists from around the world. According to the New Museum, the exhibition has been “providing an important platform for a new generation of artists who are shaping the current discourse of contemporary art and the future of culture.”