Not Failed, Just Unrealized

BEING AN ARTIST MEANS you never have to say, “I failed.” Think of the advantage that gives artists over the rest of the plodding classes. Artists never have to admit the lack of wit, talent, or stamina needed to conceive of work, realize it and see it through. All they have to do is rummage through their junk pile and declare everything in it “unrealized.”

At least that is the drift of “A call for unrealized projects” broadcast by the Agency for Unrealized Projects (AUP), a conceptual scheme devised by artists Julieta Aranda, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Julia Peyton-Jones, and Anton Vidokle in collaboration with London’s Serpentine Gallery. Herewith, AUP’s press release:

Unlike unrealized architectural projects, which are frequently exhibited and circulated, unrealized artworks tend to remain unnoticed or little known. But perhaps there is another form of artistic agency in the partial expression, the incomplete idea, the projection of a mere intention?

Agency of Unrealized Projects (AUP) seeks to document and display these works, in this way charting the terrain of a contingent future.

Though the state of being unrealized implies the potential for realization, not all projects are intended to be carried out.

In other instances, artists deliberately leave works incomplete, to record very interesting “failures” or experiments. Other planned projects involve consciously utopian, non-utilitarian, and conceptual spaces that were not made available for realization. Whether censored, forgotten, postponed, impossible, or rejected, unrealized projects form a unique testament to the speculative power of non-action.

That last sentence is a jewel of double-think. Every botched, bungled, abandoned wreck of aborted imagination retains a certain redemptive power because it falls, however derelict, from the mind of an artist. Thanks to the good offices of AUP, every lead balloon can be hoisted aloft on the wings of a repurposing spirit.

This is a good time to dig out your costume designs for that anti-capitalist interpretive dance routine you daydreamed about in grad school. Or gather up the pieces to your crumbling old assemblage meant to skewer the cultural insensitivity of Western technology and Big Pharma.



There is nothing to laugh at here. It is a Very Serious project. Indeed, respondents to the call will enter an archive that has been assembled “following several years of international research conducted in the late 90s.” It will be on show to customers in a temporary office in Basel this June.

Such is the stuff of Art Basel.

Does anything here remind you of Komar and Melamid in their heyday? Remember the time they sold shares in their souls at Ronald Feldman? You don’t? Well, don’t worry. It was not all that memorable. What is interesting about AUP is how much deja vu there is in the cutting edge these days. Myths die hard. AUP is simply recycling that tattered, old canard of artists being an elevated species. Their failures never have to die; they can be resurrected as unrealized projects—fresh in someone else’s portfolio.


© 2011 Maureen Mullarkey



  1. I call first dibs on submitting the “Unrealized Agency for Unrealized Projects.”

  2. The best part, for all the yadda-yadda about research and conceptualizing, etc., is that the entire project goes to the credit of four hustlers with a knack for the conceptual game. Does this not count as artists exploiting one another?

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