Houston Art Critic to Pan Performance Art with Performance of His Own

The happy couple: Reese Darby and Douglas Britt.
The happy couple: Reese Darby and Douglas Britt.
Photo courtesy Douglas Britt

Words aren't enough for one Houston art critic to pan a performance art piece -- he needs to stage a performance art piece of his own.

On Friday, Houston Chronicle arts writer Douglas Britt will marry art publicist Reese Darby at Tony's Corner Pocket. They're not doing it out of love -- he is gay, she is straight. Up until a few days ago, in fact, Darby said Britt knew her as "the girl who works for Zoya Tommy," the director of PG Contemporary. No, they're doing it as an act of "art and activism."

The Art Gay Marries a Woman is inspired by another newsworthy act of nontraditional matrimony -- The Art Guys Marry a Plant, that 2009 piece of "behavior" work that saw Michael Galbreth and Jack Massing (the two "Art Guys") marry a plant at the Contemporary Arts Museum.

Britt bashed the piece at the time, calling it irresponsible for admittedly piggybacking off the gay-rights issue and "reinforcing the homophobic 'slippery slope' argument." (The Art Guys contend that this work, like all their behavior pieces, attempts to blur the lines between life and art.)

All was pretty much forgotten, until The Menil Collection acquired the tree -- an oak -- and planted it in its outdoor grounds this past summer. The announcement earlier this fall that there will be a formal dedication this Saturday for the tree drew Britt's ire all over again, mainly this time because the Menil agreed to a "lifetime commitment -- and into tarnishing its standards and its civil-rights legacy."

"When I got wind of the Menil acquisition, I thought, 'Oh geez, I don't want to go through rehashing all that in the paper again.' But the fact that it's the Menil made it much bigger than the Art Guys," said Britt, who, for the record, said he respects The Art Guys and enjoys much of their work. "My perspective was never anti-Art Guys; it was anti-The Art Guys Marry a Plant."

So this time around, Britt set about finding an art critic to marry as a means to show readers -- and the Menil -- "what really marrying for art, not pretending to, could look like." After publicizing his quest (four critics had turned down his proposal, and the Friday wedding was quickly approaching without a bride), Darby, an assistant to the director at PG Contemporary, jokingly tweeted that she'd be the bride -- a virtual yes to Britt's widely cast proposal.

"I was aware of the tree dedicating ceremony to begin with, and I kind of wasn't kosher with that," said Darby. "[The Art Guys] were very open about it not necessarily being a comment on gay rights, but it's now becoming some sort of Houston shrine to gay rights when it wasn't about that at all."

When Britt and Darby wed on Friday at Tony's, as the opening act to an amateur strip contest, they'll do so most likely with Ring Pops. Britt's friend Christian Chiari, who's ordained by the Universal Light Church, will officiate, and, when the time comes, Darby's dad -- a civil rights attorney -- most likely will do the divorce Kardashian-style -- as quickly as possible. But before that happens, the two plan on attending the tree dedication at the Menil on Saturday as newlyweds.

As far as getting The Art Guys' blessing, that, no surprise, is not in the cards.

"I don't care," said Galbreth when asked about the piece. "Our work over the years has provoked a lot of responses, both positively and negatively. We're going to do what we're going to do."

Massing was of a similar mind, and found this particular response misguided.

"I think [Britt] is entitled to do whatever he wants to do, but it seems disingenuous to make a protest piece about something that wasn't a protest piece," he said. "He thinks we're making fun of gay marriage. We're not."

The Art Gay Marries a Woman on Nov. 18 at 10:30 pm at Tony's Corner Pocket, 817 W Dallas.

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