Museum for the Misbegotten

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The Museum of Failure celebrates brands and products that never had a prayer

What’s the most unappetizing grocery-shelf beverage you can imagine?

One candidate might be Orbitz, a “texturally enhanced alternative fruit beverage” in which scads of multi-colored balls of gelatin floated, making the foul-tasting contents look something like an Ikea ball pit. Consumer stayed away from Orbitz in droves and, predictably, the product disappeared in less than a year. (An ad campaign exhorting shoppers to “prepare to embark on a tour into the bowels of the Orbiterium” probably didn’t help.)

Orbitz is one of some 150 products on display at the Museum of Failures—branded foods, beverages, appliances, cars and other items that flickered briefly in the consumer firmament and then burned out. Along with the Edsel, the DeLorean, Google Glass, the Segway, SONY Betamax and other historic marketing fails, the collection features lesser-known trainwrecks like Harley-Davidson Eau de Toilette (faintly redolent of exhaust fumes and crankcase oil); Colgate Beef Lasagna (with notes of mint and fluoride); the Hannibal-Lecter-ish Rejuvenique beauty mask (which zaps the face with electric shocks to erase wrinkles) and Bic for Her (“Yes, that’s right,” said one critic. “Lady pens.”)

The museum opened in Helsingborg, Sweden, in 2017, but has since operated as a kind of traveling circus of marketplace abominations, with extended stays in Hollywood, Minneapolis, Paris, Shanghai, Taipei and Washington. Founder and chief curator Samuel West came up with the idea during a visit to Zagreb’s fabled Museum of Broken Relationships. (“A unique emotional journey around the world through hundreds of break-ups,” proclaims its website.)

There is an unavoidably jokey vibe to the Museum of Failure and its array of branding and product design flops, but West is more inclined to cherish than disparage them. “Failure is something to be celebrated,” he says. “It’s a natural and essential part of innovation.” Channeling Tolstoy, he adds, “Each failure is uniquely spectacular, while success is nauseatingly repetitive.” By his own account, West himself merits his own display case in the collection. After registering the museum’s domain name, he realized he’d misspelled “museum.”

Running the museum isn’t West’s only job. An innovation researcher at Sweden’s Lund University, he advises companies on how to enhance creativity and innovativeness by learning from failure.

He is also the co-founder and chief curator of the Disgusting Food Museum in Malmö, Sweden, where visitors can view such gustatory indelicacies as Casu marzu (maggot-infested cheese from Sardinia), fruit bat soup from Guam, lamprey stew and Chinese mouse wine.

Pairs perfectly with Colgate Beef Lasagna.

For a deep dive into the upside of failures and mistakes, listen to our interview with artist, author, educator and self-proclaimed professional mistake-maker Laurie Rosenwald, on Carpenter Group’s Change Makers podcast.