South London Gallery
From 29 January-14 March, Michael Landy decided to pay tribute to artistic failure by transforming the South London Gallery into (what he called) ‘Art Bin’, creating an enormous structural container built specifically for the disposal of works of art. The plan being that, over the course of the show, the receptacle would fill up and ultimately create, in Landy’s words, “a monument to creative failure.”
On the opening night, visitors had begun to congregate around the ‘bin’, like the crowds at a demolition derby. They cheered and applauded at every shattering crash that echoed and appalled at every shattering crash that echoed through the building, as those on hand to assist Landy sent discarded art works plummeting toward the broken mound of ill-fated creativity which had already started to form. Over the busy hatting and banging, a sense of relief seemed to fill the air, on the artists’ part, at least. Perhaps it was a relief to see their unsuccessful creations, whose failure had perhaps hung over them for too long, finally being destroyed, yet also going on, with almost Buddhist sense of ‘renewal through demise’ to contribute to the existence of another, communal, artwork.
It was quite sightseeing canvas, sculpture and all things in between precariously thrown into what could, to the untrained eye, have been simply a growing pile of any junk. The trained eye, meanwhile, would have been able to pick out abandoned fragments of work by the likes of Gary Hume, Damien Hirst and Landy himself. Alongside such art world stars, Landy had also encouraged lesser-known artists to dispose of their rejected ‘art’. Needless to say, the reaction to this invitation had art students and art collectors alike queuing up for the chance to become a part of ‘Art Bin’.
This idea of artistic demolition is the perfect sequel to Landy’s most famous work, ‘Break Down’ (2001), in which he methodically destroyed all of his possessions. After cataloguing everything he owned, including his clothes, car, birth certificate and (controversially) works of art by other artists, Landy spent two weeks in the former C&A department store, in OxFord Street, systematically pulping and shredding these former belongings- an act of conspicuous destruction.
While ‘Break Down’ was a personal unburdening that was shocking thanks to Landy’s total commitment to the concept (he literally did include ‘everything’ that he owned in the ‘to be destroyed’ list), ‘Art Bin’ has opened the idea up and made it into an interactive process. By celebrating the idea of failure (and respecting the individual artists’ decisions about what actually constitutes a failure), Landy’s ‘Art Bin’ shows that no artist is immune to self- criticism, regardless of their art world credentials or the stage of their career. Ultimately, this show draws attention to the complex issues that surround what constitutes a successful or valuable contemporary art work and chucks the idea of artistic preciousness, as well some dodgy doublings, into the great bin of history.