Fail better

Fail better

Hamburger Kunsthalle

Bas Jan Ader (1942–1975), Fall 2, 1970. Documentation; Amsterdam. © Mary Sue Ader-Andersen / Bas Jan Ader Estate at the Patrick Painter Gallery.

March 11, 2013

Fail better
1 March–11 August 2013

Hamburger Kunsthalle
20095 Hamburg

With: Marina Abramović, Vito Acconci, Bas Jan Ader, Francis Alÿs, John Baldessari, Guy Ben-Ner, Tacita Dean, Rineke Dijkstra, Tracey Emin, Jeanne Faust, Fischli & Weiss, Ceal Floyer, Annika Kahrs, Steve McQueen, Bruce Nauman, Christoph Schlingensief, Gillian Wearing

“Try again / fail again / fail better,” is an inspirational quote by the Irish writer Samuel Beckett. During his visit to Germany around 75 years ago, Beckett made a number of extended visits to the Hamburger Kunsthalle, and now—in keeping with his famous motto—the Kunsthalle is presenting a diverse selection of films and videos on the theme of failure. In works dating from the 1960s to the present day, internationally acclaimed artists explore this complex phenomenon, highlighting not only the playful, amusing and surprising aspects of failure but also its mournful and tragic dimensions.

In the fast-paced modern era—driven by a demand for effectivity and the unwavering belief in progress—there is little room for failure, frustration or defeat. Maximum performance, efficiency and achievement are the things that matter in our success-oriented society. No wonder the American sociologist Richard Sennett once described failure as the great modern taboo. There is a widespread reluctance to talk about failing—above all on a personal level—as this involves admitting that one has reached a limit, a point beyond which nothing will be as it was before. But does the fact of having failed necessarily mean that nothing has been accomplished? The paradox of failure is precisely that every ending can spark a new beginning, resignation can turn into hope: an apparent defeat can therefore provide an unexpected opportunity and lead in a completely different direction.

Within the realm of art, failure as a risk that must be taken, a necessary form of experiment, has always been closely linked to the creative process. In artistic terms, to have failed implies that one has ventured out of safe and familiar territory and dared to attempt something new. The writer Wilhelm Genazino once aptly described artists as the “demonstrators of failure,” whereby art is conceived as an open-ended, searching process that goes beyond the creation of a finished product or the making of a masterpiece. For today’s artists, the idea of addressing one’s own inability—the Sisyphean task of dealing with life’s absurdities, articulated through a process of trial and error – has lost none of its appeal. On the contrary: the experience of failure proves to be a fundamental aspect of contemporary art practice.

Curator: Dr. Brigitte Kölle

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March 11, 2013

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