Last September, a company called Touch launched in Beijing. The share economy is apparently even more popular in China than it is here, so Touch entered the marketplace offering items that were previously unavailable for short-term rental: lifelike silicone sex dolls.
For the bargain price of roughly $45, a person could enjoy 24 hours of pseudo-human companionship without the financial commitment of purchasing a doll (they cost around $1,500) and without being tied down to a single silicone sex partner, an unnecessary self-imposed monogamy. If you ignore the transmission of secreted bodily fluids, hell, it almost sounds logical. The business model appealed to a certain subset of the population (the company reported that dolls had been reserved), but outcry from the general public was swift and loud enough that just four days after launching, Touch called it quits.
One of the dolls has since been donated to the Museum of Failure, a Swedish institution that celebrates some of innovation's most notorious misses, and which launches a two-month pop-up at downtown's A+D Architecture and Design Museum beginning in December.
The museum, which went viral when it opened in Sweden earlier this year, is the brainchild of Dr. Sam West, a clinical psychologist based in Sweden who works in innovation research. In corporate environments, West noticed that successes were discussed more often than failures, even though failures are exponentially more frequent. “I got tired of being force-fed these success stories,” he says.
West had started a small collection of failed products that he used in workshops and university lectures, among them a Nokia N Gage, a failed gaming system/cellphone released in 2002, and a bottle of Harley-Davidson cologne, which he says actually doesn't smell like “motor oil or a greasy, smelly fat man.” All the same, nobody wanted a fragrance they'd associate with the aroma of motorcycle exhaust.
West got the idea to turn his collection into something grander when he stumbled on the Museum of Broken Relationships during a trip to Zagreb, Croatia; it's another institution that takes seemingly mundane objects and gives them gravitas by placing them in the context of a museum. (Its permanent L.A. outpost opened in 2016.) “Once I said, 'OK, this is going to be a museum,' I went into doing intensive research on different sectors and domains and finding the failures that fit into the museum,” he says. He found a lot of what he was looking for on Craigslist, and when the museum opened in Sweden, the donations started pouring in.
The Museum of Failure's L.A. incarnation, which opens to the public on Saturday, Dec. 2, will feature roughly 100 objects: a Segway, the Bic for Her (pens targeted toward women by virtue of being pink), a disgusting-looking frozen lasagna by Colgate and two textbooks from Trump University. Even though it's a stretch in terms of qualifying as a failed innovation, West also included a Trump-branded board game. “Ignore the fact that I hate Trump, it’s a horrible game,” West says. “It's a cheap ripoff of Monopoly that failed once in ’89 or ’90, and then when he became a celebrity with the TV show, they released it again [in 2004] and it flopped a second time.” There are more serious objects, too: innovations in science and medicine that bankrupted companies and even killed people.
The point of the project isn't to glorify failure, per se, but to call attention to its near inevitability. “When you see the exhibit and you see all these big brands, when they try something new they fail often,” West says. “There’s no shame in failing. The idea is that once you see all the failures, you feel liberated.” The museum features a “failure confession booth” where visitors are encouraged to write down their most colossal personal or professional failures and post them on a wall.
“That’s actually one of my favorite parts,” West says. “It’s personal and they’re fun to read.”
Museum of Failure, 900 E. Fourth St., downtown; Dec. 2-Feb. 4. failuremuseum.com.