Michael Galbreth's Massive, Largely Forgotten Public Art Project "The Human Tour" Lives On

Categories: Art Space

Photo by Lillie Monstrum
Artists Carrie Schneider (left) and Alex Tu will be walking around Houston in these suits as they complete Michael Galbreth's 1987 art project "The Human Tour."

It was one of the most exciting events of 1987. But in the intervening 25 years, it's been all but forgotten. Until now.

This Sunday, Houston artists Carrie Schneider and Alex Tu will embark on "The Human Tour: An Anthropomorphic Route Through The City of Houston," a 40-some-odd-mile route around Houston that takes on the form of a human body.

Michael Galbreth, better known as the taller half of The Art Guys, conceived of "The Human Tour" in 1982 while a student at the University of Houston. It was such a big concept it took five years to implement. Using primitive computer technology and digital mapping, Galbreth superimposed a human form on the streets of Houston. The form encompassed most of the Inner Loop, including the Second, Third and Fourth Wards and the Near North Side, which at the time was largely unexplored by Houston's West Side. Along with Jack Massing, the other Art Guy, Galbreth planted five plaques where the head, hands and feet would be, laid out more than 150 blue silhouettes on the streets to serve as guideposts and printed maps for would-be Human Tourists, which could be picked up at the downtown library or DiverseWorks.

"The tour is designed for people to see areas of the city with which they may not be familiar and get some sense of the neighborhoods," Galbreth said at the time in a Houston Chronicle piece that called the project "the single most exciting event of the 1987 Houston International Festival."

Today, only one of those plaques remains (former Houston Press reporter John Nova Lomax stumbled upon it three years ago in the Binz section of the Museum District at Wichita and Austin), all of the blue markers have worn away and Galbreth has a "shit-ton" of boxes of maps left over (the project is remembered, at least, by whoever has manned this Wikipedia entry on "Houston Alternative Art").

After "The Human Tour" launched in 1987, Galbreth pretty much moved on from his massive undertaking to turn his attention 100 percent to The Art Guys. And it might have continued to be a largely forgotten part of Houston "alternative art" history if not for Schneider and Tu.

Schneider heard about "The Human Tour" after writing about walking as a form of art on the local art blog Glasstire late last year. Galbreth's wife and Glasstire founder Rainey Knudson brought "The Human Tour" to her attention, and Schneider was naturally intrigued.

"To me, it's the opposite of what Houston is," says Schneider. "Houston is so obsessed with cars and concrete and is not very human, so it's kind of interesting that his route is based on the human form."

Schneider found a natural ally in Tu. Both artists share similar concerns about Houston's car-based culture -- Schneider as the founder of Hear Our Houston, which fosters public-generated audio walking tours, and Tu as the founder of Counter Crawl, which puts on community-based, mobile art events and bike ride extravaganzas.

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Natachee's Supper 'n Punch

3622 Main St., Houston, TX

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