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Simone Leigh, Dunham II, 2017

Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon investigates gender’s place in contemporary art and culture at a moment of political upheaval and renewed culture wars. The exhibition features an intergenerational group of artists who explore gender beyond the binary to usher in more fluid and inclusive expressions of identity.


The New Museum has been committed to urgent ideas since its inception, devoting many exhibitions and programs over the years to issues of representation with regard to gender and sexuality: Extended Sensibilities (1982), Difference (1984–85), HOMO VIDEO (1986–87), and Bad Girls (1994) are just four notable examples. Following in this tradition, Trigger extends the conversation around identity, considering how even a fluid conception of gender is marked by ongoing negotiations of power and cannot be understood outside its complex intersections with race, class, sexuality, and disability. The exhibition’s title, Trigger, takes into account that word’s range of meanings, variously problematic and potent; the term evokes both traumatic recall and mechanisms that, set into motion, are capable of igniting radical change.


The exhibition features more than forty artists working across a variety of mediums and genres, including film, video, performance, painting, sculpture, photography, and craft. Many embrace explicit pleasure and visual lushness as political strategies, and some deliberately reject or complicate overt representation, turning to poetic language, docufiction, and abstraction to affirm ambiguities and reflect shifting physical embodiment. Representing no single point of view, and in some cases presenting productively contradictory positions, Trigger assembles artists for their singular efforts in considering gender’s capacity to represent a more general refusal of stable categorization—a refusal at the heart of today’s most compelling artistic practices.