The Menil has formally announced that The Art Guys’ controversial artwork “The Art Guys Marry a Plant” has been approved for de-accession. The Houston museum has rid itself of a troublesome artwork, which for years has been subject to vandalism and criticism as an emblem of gay marriage.
In light of such a prolonged, tense climate, the museum’s move doesn’t come as a complete surprise. Since 2009, when The Art Guys dressed up in tuxedos in a two-person, one-tree marriage ceremony, the work has inspired furor from both sides of the ideological aisle, both within the museum’s own board and with the art public. One of the work’s most vocal opponents, Douglas Britt, then art critic for The Houston Chronicle, faulted the work for trivializing gay marriage. All along, The Art Guys have denied that the work deals with anything, except maybe environmentalism.
At the time, Britt wrote that the work “inadvertently reinforces the ‘slippery slope’ argument that if we let gays wed, next we’ll allow people to marry animals, and so on.” He then took his criticism off the page; in 2011, he arranged his own performance. Initially, Britt planned to marry a critic in protest of the museum’s acceptance of the work (Art F City’s own Paddy Johnson was offered the role), but when no takers were found, he ultimately settled with a stranger named Reese Darby. The day after Britt’s marriage, the tree was formally planted on the Menil grounds.
In the years since, the oak sapling has been subject to a range of damage and graffiti—at one point, the sapling had been cut down to a shrub. In January 2013, Texas art blog Glasstire reported that the museum intended to remove the work and that it had been returned to The Art Guys. Menil Director Josef Helfenstein told Texas Monthly that the work would not be deaccessioned, but given the recurring vandalism, the museum worried about its ongoing preservation:
After damage occurred to the part of the work that is a living tree, the Menil felt it necessary to move “The Art Guys Marry a Plant” and discussed this proposal with the artists, who stated that they would instead prefer for the work to be put into their possession.
Currently, the work resides with The Art Guys.