For all of the recent uproar, the tree dedication ceremony for The Art Guys Marry a Plant project was a rather peaceful affair.
In what started as a second part to The Art Guy’s absurdist performance piece — in which the artist duo of Michael Galbreth and Jack Massing wed a live oak in a public ceremony — the tree dedication evolved from a strictly conceptual gesture to one promoting community understanding.
Offering a brief introduction for The Art Guys and their spouse was Menil curator Toby Kamps, who helped to arrange the original wedding in 2009 during his curatorial post at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. Kamps’ opening speech cast a surprisingly formal tone to the event, which many (myself included) expected to veer towards slapstick comedy rather than tradition.
In what started as a second part to The Art Guy’s absurdist performance piece, the tree dedication evolved from a strictly conceptual gesture to one promoting community understanding.
Serving as master of ceremonies, Weschler offered three readings that dealt specifically with the human-plant relations: two thoughtful poems by Denise Levertov and Kay Ryan as well as a light-hearted Donald Barthelme story about a man’s romance with a wood nymph in East Texas.
It was artist James Surls who finally approached the elephant in the room, discussing how a Houston gallerist said he was being “duped” into participating in an event many in the local art world have deemed a slight against gay marriage.
Tensions had peaked with the protest-marriage of Houston Chronicle art writer Douglas Britt to art market consultant Reese Darby, which sparked another debate about broader issues of marriage, art, and women’s rights.
“This is tough stuff,” Surls told the crowd, calling for a truce between the gay community and the arts community. Britt, who has taken Britt-Darby as his surname, openly applauded Surls’ effort.
Using a commemorative metal sprinkling can, The Art Guys ended the ceremony by watering the live oak they married in the summer of 2009, concluding what has turned out to be far more than a conceptual art project.