“All art is failure. How one fails is a different matter.” —Luc Tuymans

Mike Kelley famously claimed that he became an artist to embrace failure. In the 1980s, this irreverent attitude broke radically with the academicism of most previous movements, like Minimalism and Neo-Expressionism, whose artists were considered creative rebels. Unlike historical conceptions of failure as tragic or dramatic misfortune, contemporary artists have approached it as a banal occurrence, often filtered through irony, humor, vulnerability, or self-effacement. Failure has also come to be, paradoxically, a hallmark of artistic success. German artist Jörg Immendorf’s Ich wollte Künstler werden(I wanted to be an artist) (1978), for example, mocks the artist’s childhood ambitions. “Of course I wanted to make something new in art. My guiding principle was egoism,” the work reads in self-deprecating awareness. Artists as diverse as Martin Kippenberger, Vito Acconci, and Frances Starkhave also engaged with the idea of failure.

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