The Art Guys Marry a Plant: Part II

Categories: Visual Arts

Photo by Meredith Deliso
The plant in The Art Guys Marry a Plant has its day in the spotlight.

When The Art Guys married a plant two years ago, they admittedly piggybacked off of the gay marriage debate as a tool for promotion. When The Art Guys commemorated their marriage to the plant this past weekend, the only thing piggybacked off of was the year-long drought.

"Wouldn't it be great if it just starts pouring?" said Lawrence Weschler, a speaker during the dedication on the grounds of The Menil Collection on the muggy Saturday morning. The crowd of about 70 murmured in agreement as gray clouds moved overhead and thunder occasionally faintly sounded. "This is a memory of that terrible season."

Weschler was present to add some profundity to the proceedings -- the final piece to The Art Guys Marry a Plant, a 2009 piece of behavior art that is no more or no less than what it sounds like. Still, the event drew much criticism at the time, with the Houston Chronicle calling it irresponsible for "reinforcing the homophobic 'slippery slope' argument" at a time when marriage equality was at a fever pitch. News of Saturday's dedication even prompted the critic to stage a response of his own: The night before, Douglas Britt, a gay man, married a woman, Reese Darby, in an "act of art and activism" (post-wedding, Britt now goes by Britt-Darby).

Photo by Meredith Deliso
Michael Galbreth, one half of The Art Guys, waters the plant in The Art Guys Marry a Plant.
On Saturday, The Art Guys -- Michael Galbreth and Jack Massing -- didn't address the gay rights issue themselves. Instead, they focused on the persistent lack of rain as they drew attention to their tree, an eight-year-old oak, which was planted on the grounds of the Menil earlier this year. Towards the end of the brief dedication, the Guys rose to ceremoniously unveil a plaque and water the plant, in "hopes that it survives the terrible drought," said Massing.

A voice for those hurt by the piece did come from one of the dedication's anointed speakers. Sculptor James Surls said he "would be remiss" if he did not address the response from Houston's gay community to this unconventional marriage.

"This is tough stuff," said Surls in a rambling talk that touched on the reverence of marriage -- gay or straight -- and the importance of the gay community in Houston's arts community. "Maybe the marriage of a plant is what we need to take stock and give inventory to what we are as a people."

Thanks to Surls's speech, there was at least one fan of Saturday's proceedings in the crowd -- Britt-Darby himself.

"This was the better ceremony," said Britt-Darby, comparing it with the 2009 marriage, held at the Contemporary Arts Museum. "James spoke eloquently about the dignity of gay people. The fact that he acknowledged it meant a lot."

It's all water under the bridge now.

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Douglas Britt-Darby
Douglas Britt-Darby

Not water under the bridge. The piece has improved, and the fact that Saturday's ceremony publicly acknowledged the gay-rights issue means a lot, but the piece still isn't Menil-worthy. The Menil has more work to do.

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