The Museum of Failure: Celebrating the Unsuccessful

One psychologist turned curator brings his weirdly uplifting vision to life in Los Angeles.

January 16, 2018 5:00 am

Every one of us has had something turned out badly – relationships, business ventures, and financial outlays, that for one reason or another, just failed miserably.

Now, there’s a place you can go to feel better about your missteps. It’s like a Hall of Fame for things that, while good-intentioned, have gone awry.

Jet into the Museum of Failure and you can get a glimpse of some the world’s worst inventions. With a collection of more than 100 disastrous items, you can gasp at catastrophes from the 17th century to today.

Oprah Winfrey’s inspirational failure. (Anne Easton)

The display is the brainchild of Dr. Samuel West, who is a licensed clinical psychologist and PhD in organizational psychology with a focus on innovation. Along with his research, West has worked as a consultant helping organizations improve their climate for innovation. He is the director and curator of the Museum of Failure.

West channeled his fascination with the relationship between innovation and failure into research on the social stigma of failure, wanting to find a new and an exciting way to communicate the abstract ideal of learning from setbacks and stimulate a discussion about the role of failure in moving forward.

“Failure is how you learn to walk and learn to talk,” West simply says.

The epic flops featured at the museum range from a beef lasagna made by toothpaste giant Colgate, Harley-Davidson Perfume, the Betamax video machine, Google Glass, and Cocoa-Cola Blak.

Also, take a gander at the horribly named Ayds Candy, the famous Edsel automobile, and unsupportive blow-up furniture from IKEA. Grainy videos on broadcast commercials for crazy products like Sauna Pants and The Tiddy Bear.

While perusing through these items, another interesting aspect to consider is that every one of these products was unveiled with great hope for success, but unfortunately, for previously unforeseen reasons, all of them tanked.

Celebrities don’t escape criticism in the museum as a display calls out the failure of the Jay Z/Beyonce fronted music streaming service Tidal.

And, included in this exhibition of bombastic fiascoes is a space dedicated to President Trump’s “accomplishments,” including a timeline of the “Make American Great Again” proprietor’s business ventures that went belly up, such as Trump Vodka, Trump University and Trump Entertainment Resorts.

Included in the installation are a few interactive displays. Patrons can vote on their least favorite flavor of Oreo cookies, which include Key Lime and Swedish Fish versions, and there’s a “failure confessional,” where guests are encouraged to anonymously write out their own mistakes and post them for all to see and enjoy.

The Failure of the Oreo. (Anne Easton)
Wall of Failure (Anne Easton)

If seeing all of these major fiascos gets you down, don’t worry, you won’t leave the museum depressed. Among the disasters are some encouraging messages designed to inspire and motivate everyone about the true benefits of failure and the new innovations that it can foster.

Just consider at the Edsel, while the overall car was a failure, it was the first automobile to feature push-button controls on the steering wheel — a true innovation to come out of a disaster.

The Museum of Failure is currently on display in Los Angeles at the A+D Architecture and Design Museum located at 900 E. 4th Street. General admission tickets are $15. Goldstar is offering a limited number of discounted tickets so grab them before they sell out. The exhibit runs through February 4.  A new permanent Swedish location will open in April 2018 at Dunkers Kulturhus.


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