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May 08, 2008|PAUL YOUNG

It might seem odd to celebrate failure in light of today's scorching-hot art scene, but that's just what the folks at the Los Angeles-based Journal of Aesthetics & Protest did with their latest book, "Failure: Experiments in Aesthetic and Social Practices."

The "failure" of the last presidential election inspired the project, says co-author Robby Herbst, but the idea has caught fire in light of the state of the world and the trend toward bare-bones, non-monumental artworks. The ongoing L.A.-centric Whitney Biennial in New York, for instance, is chockablock with trite, incomprehensible, deliberately "de-skilled" artworks that have critics up in arms. "People try to call it a slacker aesthetic," argues Herbst. "But to me it's a beautifully messy aesthetic that doesn't try to be anything at all. It just exists in its own space without being part of a larger discourse."

The way such "failurist art" dovetails with failures in the world at large is the book's subject. The tome excels most when it explores how political movements, aesthetic trends and utopias have failed despite good intentions. By doing so, the book's authors suggest that failure might be history's more interesting twin.

"Failure defines all of history," says Herbst. "But it's a total reversal of how we've been taught to understand it."

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-- theguide@latimes.com

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