In an intimate happy-hour event at Leon's Lounge, art critic Devon Britt-Darby and Reese Darby-Britt untied the knot in a special divorce ceremony led by friend and Internet-certified minister Christian Chiari.
Amongst a small group of supporters, the couple officially dissolved the marriage vows taken in protest against the Menil Collection's planting of a tree from The Art Guys Marry a Plant performance piece, which became the focal point of a row in the Houston arts community about marriage rights and the role of public art.
The tree planting was the second part of The Art Guy’s performance piece in which the artist duo of Michael Galbreth and Jack Massing wed a live oak in a public ceremony in 2009. Britt-Darby felt the work devalued gay marriage, hence the protest marriage and now . . . legal divorce.
"It's funny," Devon Britt-Darby says. "You need a minister or some sort sanctified body to make the marriage licenses official in Texas, but you don't need one to get divorced."
CultureMap spoke with the ex-couple in the days following the divorce ceremony to hear what they learned from the union and what they hope people will take from their public protest.
Aside from a thin live oak branch stuck into the "divorce cake" from Randalls, discussion of The Art Guys' piece was largely side barred at the event by a larger commentary on marriage and marriage equality.
It's an institute you can't disparage
"I've definitely come to see how marriage is this truly civil affair," Britt-Darby, who is keeping his married name, says. "It's funny. You need a minister or some sort of sanctified body to make marriage licenses official in Texas, but you don't need one to get divorced.
"The wedding is something we often view in religious terms, while divorce is completely civil."
Britt-Darby said that after announced his former life as a sex worker in late November (which led to him leaving his job as a Houston Chronicle arts and society reporter) and embarked on a 10,000-mile road trip across the country, he gave his bride the duties of filing the matrimonial paperwork with the county.
"When we got married, I didn't realize the whole cathartic effect it would have on me and I certainly didn't know I would come out about my escorting and go on that huge trip," he says. "It felt only fair to let Reese have the final say."
Reese Darby notes that she and her now ex-husband had different reasons for going through with marriage — hers more political, his more art oriented — and that she hadn't anticipated the rage within the art community that would lead to the vandalism of the Art Guys' tree.
"It was very upsetting to see The Art Guys become the focal-point of all this anger," Reese Darby says . "There was no reason to be hateful."
"It was very upsetting to see The Art Guys become the focal-point of all this anger," she says. "There was no reason to be hateful. I went into this project hoping to broaden the conversation about the piece, not to attack The Art Guys.
"Admittedly, maybe that was a little naive at the time."
After six months of memorable matrimony, both Darby and Britt-Darby say they have forged a unique bond, though they met only days before that fateful autumn wedding at Tony's Corner Pocket strip club.
"We've shared all of this personal information since the wedding — even a number of Internet passwords," Reese Darby laughs. "Is it weird how I sort of miss being fake married?"
When Britt-Darby left Houston for his cross-country trip, she says they maintained regular contact by phone and quickly built a surprising a level of trust. "I've been amazed at how seriously we've taken this silly marriage," Reese Darby says. "It was like this arranged marriage that kind of worked despite the two of us having these almost opposite personalities."
The now ex-husband was equally touched.
"There's something about ritual and ceremony that is very powerful, which is why it's such a common theme in art," Britt-Darby says. "I think this marriage piece truly proves the power of going through a ceremony and letting it have this transformative effect on you."