The Joan Miro Foundation presents “The beauty of failure / The failure of beauty”, selected by Harald Szeemann and co-produced by Forum Barcelona 2004 as one of the “Forum in the City” events concerned with the Conditions of Peace. It contains around 150 works – drawings, paintings, sculptures, photographs and installations – from a period running from the end of the nineteenth century to the present day.
The exhibition is about how great dreams and utopias that seem so splendid in the abstract are doomed to failure when we try to materialise them, because they presuppose an entirely new, ideal society that can never exist.
The show is divided into twelve sections. It begins with a display of documents relating to representatives of the first and second generation of anarchists who were the forerunners of the anarchy in Barcelona at the time of the Civil War, and continues with the utopia of the union of all the arts in the work of art of the future, in Richard Wagner’s idea of the total work of art, exemplified by Bayreuth.
Another utopia was Monte Verità, in Switzerland, where in 1900 a reform movement tried to find an alternative to communism and capitalism. At the same time, revolutions were occurring in every field, including the world of art, with the first creations by Kandinsky and Malevich, and later Mondrian and Duchamp. Their ideas were followed by Antonin Artaud in the 1930s.
Finally, we arrive at the 1960s, when there was a second revolution in art, brought about by Joseph Beuys and his theory of the “third way”, a new interpretation of the concept of capital as the sum of human creativity.
Younger artists, however, had little faith in utopias, as demonstrated for example by Bruce Nauman with World Piece, which analyses the flow of communication between people who don’t understand each other, and by Zhou Xiaohu, who in Beautiful cloud shows cloned children who observe the cruelties of the human race but only see the atomic mushroom as “a pretty cloud”.
The present generations mistrust utopias in general and opt for the individual experience, the concepts of love, education, sport, life and death, without entering into any direct criticism of society, although they do show that there can be no art without roots. This is the case of the Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn, who has produced an installation specially for the exhibition.
The beauty of failure / The failure of beauty highlights the contradiction between the utopian vision of the individual, of the artist, of the ethic of presentiment, and the art that emerges from an individual who expresses what he feels, including his way of relating to his own or other people’s cultures, and who questions multiculturalism and globalisation, in the light of the arrogance of the Western powers, the radicalisation of Islam and the economic, political and military ambitions of China, which shape life today.
The artist protects himself by looking at the most everyday situations as a solution in the face of such devastating failure.
And near Madrid, the monk Justo Gallego has been spending over thirty years building a cathedral in praise of God. His faith is immense, but he is unlikely to see the cathedral finished in his lifetime: it is the beauty of failure.
Haald Szeemann, art critic and historian, has for over forty years been an “exhibition producer”, as he likes to call himself; he was director of the Kunsthalle in Berne from 1961 to 1969, director of Documenta 5 in Kassel, and director of the 48th and 49th editions of the Venice Biennale. He has become a symbol of the independent exhibition curator, and some of his shows are benchmarks in the history of twentieth-century art.
Still from video