The Art Guys, The Art Guys Marry a Plant, 2009, live oak tree that the Art Guys married in a performance
As many of you probably alread know, the Menil is getting rid of the Art Guys tree (the remnant of their 2009 performance, The Art Guys Marry a Plant). Ironically, this happened at the same time that the Picasso vandal, Uriel Landeros, has turned himself in after months on the lam. This will sound a little dumb, but I only realized now that there is a link between these two things. In each case, a piece of art belonging to the Menil was vandalized. And these two acts of vandalism seem to have really shaken the Menil.
What made me realize the connection is an editorial by Rainey Knudson, wife of Michael Galbreth (half of the Art Guys) that was published in Glasstire. Knudson is the publisher of Glasstire, and she acknowledges her bias right up front. But she also points out that when the controversy first flared up, Glasstire purposely played it low-key because of the possible appearance of a conflict of interest. Her piece was entitled "On Institutional Cowardice: The Menil Collection." In it, she wrote
Here is what the Menil is going to say about this decision:Certainly similar speculations were made last night as members of the local art scene made the rounds to various openings. And this feels right. Except for one thing--in little over a year, two artworks in the Menil Collection have been physically attacked. And until a week ago, both attackers were still out there. Now that Uriel Landeros has turned himself in, the Menil only has to worry about one attacker. (Unless Uriel Landeros was responsible for both attacks--unlikely but possible, I suppose.)
- They want to save the tree;
- They’re worried about vandalism.
Here is the truth:
- They’re tired of the controversy around the artwork;
- They need to raise money for their drawing center and want this distraction to go away;
- They don’t believe in the artwork and are sorry they ever accepted it into their collection.
The weird thing about the deaccessioning of the tree is the timing. The director of the Menil, Josef Helfenstein, met with the Art Guys in December of 2012 and told them of "his decision to move the tree, either behind a building somewhere on the Menil campus, or preferably, off the premises entirely," according to Knudson. Why a year later?
Since we're all engaging in speculation here, let me offer this. In December 2011, someone snaps the Art Guys' tree in two. In June 2012, Uriel Landeros spraypaints Woman in a Red Armchair by Pablo Picasso. The Menil--perhaps specifically Helfenstein--feels besieged by barbaric destructive criminality. Perhaps this feeling of lurking danger grows over time. And the most vulnerable piece of art in the collection is the still fragile, right-out-in-the-public Art Guys tree. The tree--it sits there, so inviting to suggestible sociopaths. What to do? Hide it? Give it away? So you can see where this is going.
In the end, it may not have been institutional cowardice, but institutional paranoia (if not full-blown PTSD) that caused the terrible decision to remove the tree.