Though failure has an unfavorable definition, interpretations of the word fluctuate dramatically between negative and positive connotations, depending on whom you ask. While some people may consider failure as something to avoid at all costs, others recognize—and even welcome—the possibilities that arise when something does not go exactly as planned. The seventeen artists in I Dropped the Lemon Tart at Lisa Cooley examine the many faces of failure, resulting in works that range from cheeky to cynical.
The title of the show comes from an anecdote about the Italian chef Massimo Bottura and his sous-chef Takahiko Kondo, who, in one fateful moment, dropped a lemon tart as it was leaving the kitchen to be served. While the terrified Kondo recalls wanting to end his life then and there, Bottura saw in the wrecked dessert a chance for innovation. The tart inspired Bottura to create the now-famous dish (named “Oops, I Dropped the Lemon Tart”), in which the components are scattered across a plate, intentionally disarrayed. In an interview about the event, Kondo reflects that, “in life, to move forward, you learn from mistakes.”
The lessons we are supposed to learn from our mistakes are not always as recognizable as Kondo’s, and the failures in this exhibition aren’t always easily spotted. The press release explains that the show is not meant to celebrate failure but rather to highlight the ways in which it permeates all aspects of being. Taking this statement as a directive, I found myself determining each work a failure or not based on what I would like to believe was informed judgment but was probably more intuition. My examination quickly became tangled, with contradictory trains of thought: If I deem a work a failure, then is it a success within the parameters of the exhibition? Conversely, if a work did not seem enough of a failure, then would it be a success? Can an artwork ever be an absolute failure or success? Needless to say, instead of defining the works on a scale ranging from failure to success, considering the show in this way revealed the arbitrary characteristics by which we qualify something as a failure or not.