Why Do We Love It When Artists Fail?

A new art world-focused film series launches with one of the pillars of the creative life: failure.

As an artist, you know you’ve fallen into irrelevance when people are no longer sure if you’re still living, let alone painting.

Such is the fate of Chuck Connelly, the train-wreck savant studied in the 2008 portrait documentary The Art of Failure: Chuck Connelly Not For Sale. In a grim preamble, the film begins with Connelly—an 80s art-world star, now a good two decades removed from the days when he rubbed shoulders with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Julian Schnabel and sold over $1 million worth of work—lurking despondently outside a series of galleries. He sends his wife Laurence into the showrooms again and again, on cold-calling missions, asking randoms if they want to see Chuck’s work.

“I thought he was dead,” says one owner.

And so the film pours its first cocktail of sympathy and Schadenfreude—which will be served again and again over the next 79 minutes. We’ll follow, with equal parts delight and revulsion, Connelly’s pyrotechnic self-sabotage, a gory spiral through addiction and jerk behavior and sloppy attempts at making amends and a comeback. By the time the credits roll, we’ll be drunk on disgust and pity and humor.

The Art of Failure—even in its perfectly blunt title—is a nice little microcosm for life in the art world, for its fickle reward system and erratic, outsized egos. And Connelly is the perfect archetype.

It’s one of the reasons Andy Sturdevant and Michael Fallon selected the film to kick off their brand new documentary series, entitled “Every Hundred Feet.” (The name references both a Robert Bolano quote—“Every hundred feet the world changes”—as well as the standard length of a reel of 8mm film.)

The series, which will screen selections monthly at the Trylon, offers moviegoers a chance to see a wide range of independently produced film documentaries on artists, both known and unknown. Some have local connections. Some have never been screened before in the Twin Cities.  Each film, then, will be accompanied by a casual lecture by a local art world luminary.

“When people think of documentaries about the arts, they tend to think of docs about musicians,” says Sturdevant. “But there are a lot of worthy visual arts-related ones, as well. This month’s selection is a great place to begin: it’s really funny, really dark, and really captivating, all at the same time. You’ll sympathize with and root for Connelly, even as you come to despise him.”

Veteran visual artist Melissa Stang, who’s been making artwork around Minneapolis since the 1980s, will talk about the vagaries of the local art scene at that time, and how it compares to the concurrent New York art scene where Connelly’s tragedy unfolds.          


The Art of Failure: Chuck Connelly Not For Sale
Wednesday, March 7, 7 p.m.
Trylon Microcinema, 3258 Minnehaha Ave., Mpls. take-up.org

Future “Every Hundred Feet” films:

Wednesday, April 4, 7pm
(2007, DVD, 75m) dir Esther Robinson. In this documentary, Minnesota-born Esther Robinson reconstructs the brief life of her uncle, Danny Williams. An aspiring filmmaker at the time, Williams’ disappeared in 1966 after experiencing rough times at Andy Warhol’s Factory in New York. As A.O. Scott said in his NYT review of the film, the idea of Warhol as a “corrupter and destroyer of innocence” is not new, but Robinson’s film neatly reconstructs the “creative and psychological whirlwind around Warhol.”

Wednesday, May 2, 7pm 
(2002, DVD, 82m) dir Alfred Leslie. Far from being a conventional account of the denizens of the legendary Abstract Expressionist-era hangout, New York painter Alfred Leslie’s 2001 film is a kaleidoscopic assemblage of Hollywood movie clips, found footage, and bizarre humor. Expertly woven together into a surreal, wide-ranging meditation on art, criticism and the cult of personality, the films tells, in his words, “the true story about the war between the people who make art and the people who write about it.”