On Snail Time

Eight hours to sign your name? The Art Guys test the limits of a signature craze

Eight hours to sign your name? The Art Guys test the limits of a signature craze

Art Guys Signing Ceremony, Julia Ideson Library, January 2013
The Art Guys kicked off a series of performances pieces honoring their 30th anniversary as an art duo. Photo by Tyler Rudick
Art Guys Signing Ceremony, Julia Ideson Library, January 2013
The plan: Each Art Guy would sign their name one time for eight full hours. Photo by Tyler Rudick
Art Guys Signing Ceremony, Julia Ideson Library, January 2013
Curious visitors passed through the performance, including this group of retired school teachers. Photo by Tyler Rudick
Art Guys Signing Ceremony, Julia Ideson Library, January 2013
Photo by Tyler Rudick
Art Guys Signing Ceremony, Julia Ideson Library, January 2013
Art Guys Signing Ceremony, Julia Ideson Library, January 2013
Art Guys Signing Ceremony, Julia Ideson Library, January 2013
Art Guys Signing Ceremony, Julia Ideson Library, January 2013

Art Guys Michael Galbreth and Jack Massing held court at the historic Julia Ideson Library on Wednesday for what may have been one of the slowest public signing ceremonies on record.

"Jack, I think you're going too quickly," Galbreth warned while he concentrated on his penmanship. "We're a little ahead of schedule."

The first of 12 events celebrating The Art Guys' 30th anniversary, Signing Ceremony is as much a test of will as it is a piece of performance art. While writing one's signature is commonplace in our credit card-fueled economy, it's a different story when you take eight full hours to do it just one time.

"Ultimately, it's a drawing, right?" Massing said. "In a way, it's  more personal than many other means of expression we have available to us."

That's right . . . The Art Guys spent an entire day signing their names at a speed that would make a snail reach for its seatbelt. The entire day was mapped out in advance, yielding color-coded charts that showed how far the signatures should be at a given hour. The artists decided quite randomly, apparently to use 101 pencils throughout the event, about one every five minutes.

"This project stemmed from a discussion we had many years ago," Massing told CultureMap, breaking his gaze for just a moment.

"We were always interested in signing ceremonies when President Reagan or the first President Bush would have them. Ultimately, it's a drawing, right? It's a sort of drawing of your identity. In a way, it's more personal than many other means of expression we have available to us."

Celebrities used to signing autographs, Massing noted, can often develop two modes of writing their name one for fans and one for more legal purposes.

"A person's signature is used to sign the most important documents in his  or her life," noted Galbreth. "We've just shifted that activity so it bleeds into the notion of drawing and art."

"The signature is an act and a performance. And in the end there's a vestige of yourself in ink or graphite on the paper."

During CultureMap's visit, the event saw a regular stream of friends and curious passers-by, including a group of former school teachers touring the recently-restored library.

In light of The Art Guys' recent battles with the Menil Collection, the causal ceremony was relatively free of tension . . .  although the duo quickly noted that they weren't going to comment on that situation.

"Like pretty much all the work we've done in the past three decades, there's a certain democratic ideal embedded in this project. We've decided to do this in a public library rather than a museum or gallery," Galbreth said.

"Framing it as art or not is a secondary concern . . . A person's signature is used to sign the most important documents in his or her life. We've just shifted that activity so it bleeds into the notion of drawing and art."

Click here to see The Art Guys' full lineup of anniversary performance pieces, which include walking the length of Houston's longest road (Little York) and driving the 610 Loop for 24 hours straight.