(UPDATED) Menil To Remove Controversial Art Guys Piece From Its Collection Property

Categories: Art Space


menil-tree Photo by Everett Taasevigen.jpg
Photo by Everett Taasevigen
The Art Guys with their "spouse."

Update: The Menil Collection has clarified that The Art Guys Marry a Plant has not been removed from its collection, just moved from its property.

And "The Art Guys Marry a Plant" saga continues.

Less than two years after the Menil Collection acquired a controversial piece by the Houston duo that some critics say is anti-gay marriage and homophobic comes news that the tree and its commemorative plaque will be removed from its collection property.

Glasstire broke the news Friday night by posting just this statement from the Art Guys:

The Menil Collection has decided to remove "The Art Guys Marry A Plant" from their collection. Tentative plans are to remove the tree and plaque and return them to us soon, perhaps sometime next week, although the specifics have not yet been determined.
We offer this news to you without further comment. We have nothing further to say right now.

Thank you.

Michael Galbreth
Jack Massing

menil-tree-watering.jpg
Michael Galbreth, one-half of The Art Guys, waters the tree during the dedication in November 2011.
This is just the latest in a story that has intrigued many in the local arts community given the major players involved and its implications for public art, artist intent and institutional responsibility. Here's a quick timeline to catch you up to speed on the life of the tree thus far:

  • June 13, 2009: The Art Guys marry a live oak sapling in a public ceremony held in Museum of Fine Art's Cullen Sculpture Garden. The piece sparks criticism for "reinforcing the homophobic 'slippery slope' argument," argues then-Houston Chronicle art critic, Douglass Britt, who is gay. The Art Guys contend that this work isn't anti-gay marriage and doesn't mean anything beyond the act itself.
  • March 2011: The Menil Collection quietly acquires the piece and plants the tree on its grounds. It later announces plans for a dedication in the fall.
  • November 18, 2011: Britt preemptively responds to the dedication with a performance art piece of his own. In "The Art Gay Marries a Woman," he finds a Houston woman on Twitter to marry, Reese Darby, to show "what really marrying for art, not pretending to, could look like." He also henceforth goes by Devon Britt-Darby and, in a tangential event, loses his post as art critic for the Chronicle.
  • November 19, 2011: The Menil hosts the dedication to commemorate its acquisition. It features readings from poet Lawrence Weschler and sculptor James Surls, who addresses the response from Houston's gay community to this unconventional marriage by saying, "Maybe the marriage of a plant is what we need to take stock and give inventory to what we are as a people."
  • December 2, 2011: A vandal attacks the tree sometime at night, nearly splitting it in half, but is salvageable and remains on the Menil's grounds. The vandal is never caught and his or her motive never known, though it is assumed it is in response to the interpretation that the piece is homophobic.

And that more or less brings us to the present (a more lengthy account of the drama can be found in this Texas Monthly piece). The Menil has yet to publicly respond to its decision to remove the piece from its collection, though more details did emerge in a piece Glasstire founder Rainey Knudson published on her site on Saturday. Knudson is married to one of The Art Guys -- Galbreth -- so would therefore be privy to close details while at the same time creating an admitted conflict of interest. She writes that this past December The Art Guys met with Menil director Josef Helfenstein, who told them of his decision to move the tree "either behind a building somewhere on the Menil campus, or preferably, off the premises entirely." He asked The Art Guys which they preferred. He denied their request to have it remain as is, so the artists asked to have it returned to them "rather than be ignominiously hidden behind a building somewhere in Montrose."

Knudson called the Menil's decision to remove the controversial piece from its collection "breathtaking cowardice."

"The Menil Collection is certainly not the first museum to own an artwork that some people don't like or choose willfully to misunderstand. There are a lot of options in such a scenario, but in a nutshell, a museum can either stand by the artwork (and the artist) and keep the piece, or it can cave and get rid of it," she wrote. "The Menil Collection has caved. And now they are trying to quietly make this whole situation go away."

One of the art piece's most vocal opponents, Britt-Darby, is glad the tree will ultimately move but was also disappointed by the Menil's silence on the issue.

"I can assure you that when I stuck my neck out by legally marrying and divorcing a woman I'd barely met, my goal was not for the Menil to quietly get rid of that tree, but to promote a debate about The Art Guys' piece and the Menil's institutional responsibilities," said Britt-Darby when emailed for comment. "I'd rather have had and lost that debate than not to have had it at all. Because I don't believe a museum should place an artwork on permanent view when it is unwilling to entertain a public discussion of that artwork, I'm glad the Menil decided to move the piece, but returning it to the artists doesn't eliminate the need for that debate -- quite the opposite."

We reached out to the Menil yesterday and are awaiting comment. We'll update you once we have more.

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The Menil Collection

1515 Sul Ross, Houston, TX

Category: General


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21 comments
reliablenarratives
reliablenarratives

Here's what Josef Helfenstein told Mimi Swartz of Texas Monthly yesterday: "The Menil Collection and the Art Guys removed the work The Art Guys Marry a Plant from the grounds where it has been on view since 2011.  The Menil Collection wishes to make clear that it has not de-accessioned the work, nor has it taken any steps toward de-accessioning the work, which continues to be a part of the institution’s collection." 

So either he's lying, or Rainey and The Art Guys are lying. Meredith's story and headline need to catch up with reality.

Kristie Smith
Kristie Smith

Hey man Warhol pissed on some of his canvases and called it art. Maybe you should display your unicorn crap :-) Intetesting conversation piece.

Jalapeno
Jalapeno

We are inclusive, but we don't like some people.  We are librules.

jennytulltx
jennytulltx

Some would say Jenny is married to her whiskey bottle.  That is a bit of an exaggerations, but my point is made, and my performance art installation can be viewed nightly at Mike's Sports Bar.

NewRider Ivan
NewRider Ivan

WTF, can someone explain how the fuck that is even art? I took a shit earlier, anyone want to display that in their gallery. It was multicolored.

Shannon Hodge
Shannon Hodge

They have accomplished what they wanted to accomplish....people are talking about their art. period. That's what art is supposed to do - evoke emotion, debate, gut/raw responses. Don't take that away or try to hide it. We need art to get us thinking....if we don't have that, then we are forced to stare blankly and watch stupid reality tv shows and feed our minds that way.....uggggh.

Travis Franklin
Travis Franklin

I've always been fascinated by the Art Guys and their art. I still am.

Sabrina Sutherland
Sabrina Sutherland

Boo that's dumb and racist! Race doesn't have to mean color to be racist. Racist! Just saying! I will never go to that Menil if they do that. If you don't like it don't look, if you don't like what's on a tv station switch the fuckin channel!

Kristie Smith
Kristie Smith

Stupid stupid stupid. Only shows how our society is degrading. I asked the curator of HMNS why they shrunken heads were no longer on display a few years ago. His reply, "They were offensive to some people." SERIOUSLY???? If art is offensive and our historical artifacts are too disturbing and need to be hidden from the public.....then maybe you should stay in your underground bunker, homeschooling your behind-the-times inbred children waiting for the apocalypse or maybe just your kid's next soccer game....leave the arts to those who appreciate them.

Terry Brooks
Terry Brooks

Such a young sapling with such a checkered past...................

Lyndsey Stang
Lyndsey Stang

It's art. Really? Then we need to go ask every artist what exactly their art means and if it goes against or for something, take it down. This seems really immature. If people are going to whine about what art means, don't go look at art. We all have responsibility in ourselves to move on or throw a fit. This is silly.

amy016
amy016

Who's being repressive now?

Motherscratcher
Motherscratcher

I think "breathtaking cowardice" is probably a bit heavy. Chickenshit is probably more appropriate.

H_e_x
H_e_x

@Andrew HernandezMore like 1989 New York City. Ask Richard Serra how Tilted Arc went for him.

jennytulltx
jennytulltx

@Sabrina Sutherland Racist?  Hon, you are a hoot!

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