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“Failures” Succeed

by Allan Appel | Dec 24, 2013 1:12 pm

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Posted to: Arts & Culture, Visual Arts

A little New Haven snow bothering you?

It could be worse. You could be in Chicago. A monumental painted concrete sculpture would be standing today on the Windy City’s waterfront had a botched snowstorm cleanup not cost the mayor his reelection, and along with him all the projects he’d approved.

Artist Alan Neider tells that tale in From the Archive of Unrealized Dreams: Unmade Projects, the current show of 10 never-came-to-fruition ideas whose paper trail vestiges and photographs are arrayed on the walls of the third floor gallery space at the Institute Library at 847 Chapel St.

Curated by Martha Lewis, the modest but charming show, with models, submission letters, and rejection notes, many wistfully enclosed in otherwise empty picture frames, runs through Dec. 28.

“The show is bittersweet. It presents work that was turned down, but gives it new life as things being brought back into the sunlight and shown and shared,” Lewis writes.

If you’re of a certain generation, the show leads you hum the famous aline from Bob Dylan’s “Love Minus Zero” refrain, “..There ain’t no success like failure, and ... failure’s no success at all.”

Neider was referring to the election of Jane Byrne in Chicago in 1979 following a blizzard clean-up botched by her predecessor, Michael Bilandic.

“She also threw out every project that Bilandic had initiated, this included my sculpture—GONE,” writes Neider in the single piece of white paper that accompanies some photographs of the riverine sculpture that was not to be.

Other artists got rejected not by force majeure, but by some signed and some anonymous “dear artist” letters of the kind Giada Crispiels received from the Boston Center for the Arts (BCA) and from the Stone Quarry Hill Art Park.

Crispiels had pitched a proposal to fill up a room with some of her signature paper ivy installations to explore the idea of survival and infestation. Eugene Finney of the BCA wrote Crispels the show wasn’t large enough to include her installation. He told her to keep up her “fantastic work,” although there was no indication he had considered it in enough to detail to respond specifically.

Oh well.

In an email Crispiels wrote of the show and of such experiences: “I try in my artistic practice to think of how many projects of so many wonderful artists have been rejected. And I think that sometimes it’s just not the right moment for you to finalize that idea you have.”

Michael Quirk wanted to build what he called an “Insect House.” He described it as a private screened in space perhaps in the woods where the following kinds of questions, metaphysical and otherwise might be considered: “Are we too removed from nature? Should we be even more removed? Where is the bug spray?”

According to his documentation including a little model of his proposed structure, it was submitted to a place called Exit Art in 2009. He could not locate the original rejection letter, but Exit Art paid for their disregard. “They closed their doors in 2012,” he wrote.

The show is a formalized equivalent of taking one’s rejection letters and taping them to your office wall—as the curator says she has herself has done. But it’s an ensemble, as if Lewis said to herself: Let’s have a party, and everyone come on over with your projects that were turned down.

Her big conundrum was doing a show about rejection and then having to reject some artists’ rejection art. “There is a fascinating storehouse of unseen material buried out there,” she wrote in an email.

One of the surprises is that the material in the show betrays so little bitterness even when receiving the “dear artist” letter.

But then again, maybe the archive is incomplete.

“Unrealized Dreams” is a perspective giver particularly useful at this time of year, with its strange mixture of dreams and realities crashing into each other. There’s less visual pleasure than narrative interest.

You have to go up to the wall and read the letters, but you may well be dropping in on someone just like you.

And you have to keep humming the Dylan.

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