October 26, 2019–February 17, 2020
Floors 4 and 7

The exhibition SOFT POWER is about the ways in which artists deploy art to explore their roles as citizens and social actors. Appropriated from the Reagan-era term used to describe how a country’s “soft” assets such as culture, political values, and foreign policies can be more influential than coercive or violent expressions of power, the title contemplates the potential of art and offers a provocation to the public to exert their own influence on the world. Presented on two floors of the museum, the exhibition features new commissions and recent works by twenty international artists. Taken together, the works in SOFT POWER demonstrate what cultural theorist and filmmaker Manthia Diawara has called a solidarity between intuitions — a concept that acknowledges the complexity, darkness, and opacity from which our reality emerges — that expresses the poetry and imagination of our differences.

SOFT POWER has many events, ranging from artists’ discussions to day-long symposiums. See below for the current list, and check back regularly for more details.

Exhibition Preview

Tanya Lukin Linklater with Liz Lott, The treaty is in the body, 2017; courtesy the artist and Winnipeg Art Gallery; © Tanya Lukin Linklater
Tuan Nguyen, The Specter of Ancestors Becoming, 2019 (still); commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation; produced by Sharjah Art Foundation with additional production support from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; courtesy the artist and James Cohen, New York
Nairy Baghramian, Retainer, 2012 (installation view 2013, SculptureCenter, New York); courtesy the artist
LaToya Ruby Frazier, Shea and Zion drinking a sip of water from their freshwater spring, Jasper County, Newton, Mississippi from the series Flint is Family II, 2017; courtesy the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York and Rome
Nikhil Chopra, Drawing a Line through Landscape (Part 2: On the Road), 2017; commissioned by documenta 14 ,2017 and supported by Piramal Art Foundation, Payal, and Anurag Khanna, Galleria Continua, and Chatterjee & Lal; courtesy the artist, Chatterjee & Lal, Mumbai, and Galleria Continua, San Gimignano; photo: Madhavi Gore

Featured Artists

Haig Aivazian
Marwa Arsanios
Nairy Baghramian
Dineo Seshee Bopape
Nikhil Chopra
Minerva Cuevas
Cevdet Erek
LaToya Ruby Frazier
Hassan Khan
Duane Linklater
Tanya Lukin Linklater
Cinthia Marcelle
Dave McKenzie
Jason Moran
Carlos Motta
Tuan Andrew Nguyen
Eamon Ore-Giron
Pratchaya Phinthong
Xaviera Simmons
Tavares Strachan


Exhibition Catalogue

A volume devoted to artists addressing our politically tumultuous times. These artists understand themselves as social actors, question their responsibility as citizens, and are active in their role as public intellectuals and provocateurs.
Learn More

SOFT POWER Audio Guide

In this intimate audio guide, you will hear directly from the artists themselves: what’s behind the artworks on view, and how do they see their roles as citizens and social actors?

SOFT POWER is dedicated to the luminous memory of our very dear friend Norah Stone.

Major support for SOFT POWER is provided by Shawn and Brook Byers, the Ford Foundation, Diana Nelson and John Atwater, Katie and Matt Paige, and Helen and Charles Schwab.

Generous support is provided by Sabrina Buell and Yves Béhar, Sean Leffers and Tom Buttgenbach, Sir Deryck and Lady Va Maughan, and Aey Phanachet and Roger Evans.

Meaningful support is provided by Alka and Ravin Agrawal, Fundación Botín, Dolly and George Chammas, Wayee Chu and Ethan Beard, and Oya and Bulent Eczacibasi.

Support for the Friends of Contemporary Art at SFMOMA is provided by Katie Colendich and Albert d’Hoste, Lizelle and Martin Green, and Susan Greenleaf and Jeff Whipps.

Header image: Tanya Lukin Linklater with Liz Lott, The treaty is in the body, 2017; courtesy the artist and Winnipeg Art Gallery; © Tanya Lukin Linklater