April 20 – May 18

Failure To Thrive

A solo exhibition by Ray Madrigal

Sharp Gallery Open Hours

Monday – Friday: 11am – 6pm
Saturday: 11am – 3pm
Sundays: Closed
Holidays: Closed

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Featured Work

Time Carrying Me Away From You

Acrylic and flocking on panel

10 x 14 inches



Felt, grommets

21 x 30 inches


Iron Deficient

Acrylic, pajamas, chiffon, nonpareil sprinkles

14 x 20 inches


Don’t Look At Me Like That!

Acrylic, tears, and paper on stretched gingham

24 x 18 inches



Acrylic and tears on panel

14 x 10 inches


Not Eating

Performance with shirt, glove, candle, ice cream, washboard, and bleach

Video, 5 minutes


Lesbian Porn For Straight Men

Carved wood, sawdust, spring doorstops

13 x 8 x 6 inches



11 lbs glass, 20 minute nap, 267 lbs artist


ray madrigal, 2021

Exhibition Statement

Under certain circumstances failing, losing, forgetting, unmaking, undoing, unbecoming, not knowing may in fact offer more creative, more cooperative, more surprising ways of being in the world. Failing is something queers do and have always done exceptionally well. […] In fact, if success requires so much effort, then maybe failure is easier in the long run and offers different kinds of rewards.
Judith Halberstam, The Queer Art of Failure
Objects are us.
We use objects to signal identity.
What we eat, drink, wear, drive, and touch is what we are.
Objects find their value in “working”, whether their function is to nourish, entertain,
please, signal, support, or simply sit and look pretty.
Objects lose their value in “not working”.
I have a lot of sympathy, and sometimes love, for objects that do not work. I hope that if
I can demonstrate kindness or understanding to a broken, non-functional, strange object,
I can encourage others to do the same.
If we can tolerate (dare I say love?) dysfunctional, “failed” objects, maybe we can
tolerate (dare I say love?) dysfunctional, “failed” people.
I have dedicated my two-plus decades of life to making objects that “don’t work”– you cannot eat my paintings, or live in my sculptures, or take my video as literal medicine, or use my writing to directly pay rent. My creations, in their lack of practical function, fail before they’re even born. This brings me much shame.
But here I am, fed by painting. Sheltered by making. Soothed by performing. Enriched by writing. I make them despite the shame. I don’t think I will stop.
There is some peace, some power, in knowing that an object “doesn’t work” and finding
joy in it anyway. Acting without use soothes me, gives me permission to be useless, to
All things should have a right to exist without use.
That last statement feels too bold and too certain to be true, and I fli nch as I wait for retaliation. I’m trying the thought out anyway.
If it is useless, so be it.
Failure To Thrive is a gathering place for my works, which fail practically even if they succeed formally. The assembly is made in the hopes that in displaying my shame, others can feel more comfortable with their own. I am convinced that, left alone, our shame corrodes inside of us. Aired out among others, it is transmuted into community and self compassion.
Failure is a concern for all artists, and all citizens – individually and globally, projects fail, be they a painting or a social institution.
Failure is especially a concern for those who are not included in the language of success spoken by western, white-oriented capitalism. Failure is inevitable for someone who is fundamentally excluded from the language of achievement – a language of heterosexual, cisgendered, thin, white, able-bodied, and capitalistic success.
At their simplest, the failed objects I reflect on when creating make me laugh. At their most complex, they challenge me to redefine success, to worldbuild, to reimagine parameters. They make me ask how I know when something has failed, whose eyes I’m looking through when I pity something. Whose definitions of failure and success have I internalized? How will I know if I’ve won? Are winners and losers even functional categories anymore, when we are running a race with no finish line?
Failure To Thrive does not claim to have answers. The show’s goal is not to assert itself as a new metric for success. It hopes only to carve out a space, a moment, in which we can enjoy what communal failure has to offer: a chance for relief, compassion, and a new kind of optimism.


Organized by Marin Williams

Failure to Thrive Week of Performance
April 25 – April 28
Daily from 12 pm – 2 pm 

This event will be hosted in SITE’s Sharp Gallery

Join SITE Galleries for a week of performances featuring performances in conjunction with Ray Madrigal’s solo exhibition, Failure to Thrive, by Ari Karafiol, Charlie Thornton, Rose Bettridge, and Steve Emrich.


Photo Documentation

By Verónica Rosas



Email SITE Directors: sitegalleries@saic.edu




SITE Sharp Gallery
37 S. Wabash Ave.
Chicago, IL, 60603

SITE 280 Gallery
280 S. Columbus Drive
Chicago, IL, 60603



Gallery Hours (during exhibitions)
Monday – Friday 11am – 6pm

Saturday 11am – 3pm