On a hot and humid evening last week, the two local performance artists who call themselves the Art Guys invaded La Bare, a Galleria area "ladies club" where assorted devotees of exotic male dancing come to peruse and paw the pumped-up pecs of men with names like Amadeus and Christian.
Long hair is in here. And as Amadeus and his friends gyrated down to their neon Speedos, invisible fans blew their lusty locks hither and yon.
The invasion of the Art Guys into this foreign land of faux Fabios was not unplanned. A year ago, Art Guys Jack Massing and Michael Galbreth, who are known in art circles for their tongue-in-cheek happenings and knack for self-promotion, learned they would have an exhibit at the Contemporary Arts Museum this spring.
The two men decided to get in shape for the opening and dubbed their body transformation project "Bulk Up for CAM." They hired a trainer, began working out six times a week and adopted a low-fat diet. For a year they ate oatmeal, egg whites, chicken and two baked potatoes a day.
About 1,500 potatoes later, the Art Guys reported adding three inches around their chests and improved their muscle tone. The 5-foot, 11-inch Massing jumped from 163 to 175 pounds; the 6-foot, 5-inch Galbreth went from 172 to 186 pounds.
A few hours before they were to reveal their new bodies at La Bare, a confident Galbreth boasted, "We are ready to unveil our magnificentness."
By 10:30 p.m. a bevy of 35 women (and a few men) who identified themselves as friends of CAM and Art Guys began filling up several tables at the ladies club -- just in time to catch a few of the provocative regular acts.
"The Art Guys may have a tough time following that one," one arts type said wryly after observing a skit in which a beefy fireman rescued a limp-bodied woman and revived her with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. That feat accomplished, the fireman shed his yellow rubber duds and danced nearly naked in a flashing spotlight.
Joining the arts crowd were some 300 other local women who had come to see the fireman and the other regular performers of La Bare. They had no clue they were about to witness what some of the first-time patrons probably considered a cutting-edge art experience.
"Who are the Art Guys?" asked one.
But Nancy, who had come with the arts crowd, knew.
"The Art Guys are very clever," she said. Like many in the arts crowd, she had never set foot in La Bare before. Nancy, however, had a head start on the La Bare regulars when it came to the Art Guys. She had attended their exhibit at the CAM that afternoon, and she knew about their previous Dadaesque exploits, like the time they sat in a Denny's for 24 hours drinking coffee. The Art Guys also have sold newspapers on a Houston street corner and arranged themselves a book-signing even though they had never written a book.
Their current CAM exhibit features more Art Guys humor. By their own description, they like to take the ordinary, focus a different light on it and lead people to view it in a new way. Their exhibit sports a baseball bat covered in pennies, an Anne Klein pump with a toothbrush for a heel and a church made of pencils.
It was sometime after 11 p.m. when the Art Guys finally took center stage, after the fireman finished his act and a coal miner had dropped his overalls and his flashlight.
The first thing anyone would notice about the two amateurs was their wigs. A long, black, Cher-like rug hung over Galbreth's head. Massing chose a shorter blond one with spiked bangs. Gyrating to James Brown's "Sex Machine" they conjured a faint resemblance to Steve Martin's "wild and crazy guy" from Saturday Night Live.
One La Bare regular would later remark that she had never seen such ugly clothes on one of the club's dancers.
The Art Guys were clad in checked shirts and some Dockers-style khaki pants. But women squealed as they shed their Everyguy garb. Then came another layer of thrift store check shirts and khaki pants. And another. The audience turned to laughter. By the time the Art Guys reached their boxer shorts they each had shed about six shirts and pairs of pants.
If there was a climax to the Art Guys' appearance, it might have come when they stripped down to their Speedos, revealing elongated body parts that more resembled something attached to an elephant than anything human.
"They are poking fun at the La Bare dancers in a nice way," Nancy from the arts crowd explained.
A few feet away, a knot of La Bare regulars were not amused.
"I think they are insulting our guys," groused a regular named Rena. "They are making fun of them. Our guys work hard to get their bodies in shape. It's an insult."
The Art Guys were into another skit which involved lifting some barbells. Suddenly they began pulling string out of their Speedos. The drawstrings spewed out across the stage like 40 feet of a wayward tapeworm.
Another disgruntled regular, 25-year-old Tracy Harper, deemed the Art Guys' performance tacky. Harper, an exotic dancer herself, said the Art Guys didn't understand the hours that went into working out, dreaming up costumes and putting together skits. The Art Guys simply didn't get the art and imagination involved. The La Bare dancers are the true artists, she insisted.
"Our guys are pissed off," she added. "I date one of them. I know."
Harper then pointed to Nancy and the arts crowd.
"Those Art Guy groupies aren't even paying attention to our guys," she complained.
However, an informal survey of Amadeus and his friends turned up scant evidence that the men of La Bare were steamed. Although three exotic dancers did stand with their backs to the Art Guys during their entire performance, that seemed to be because they preferred watching the Rockets' game. When one was asked what he thought of the Art Guys, he turned his head away slightly from the game, forced a smile and said, "No comment."
One muscle-bound dancer, Racer X, said he found the Art Guys funny but then lowered his voice to say, "It looks like they have been working out for a month, not a year."
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A regular added that the Art Guys looked pale, and she suggested they try a tanning bed if they wanted to be competitive.
But the Art Guys say there won't be any return engagements at La Bare, even though they had some fun and managed to pocket more than $100 in their Speedos. Galbreth said he was a little irritated about one thing, however. It seems an eager fan untied his right work boot and walked off with it. They were his favorite shoes.
Massing and Galbreth will next appear at the Stop N Go on the corner of Richmond and Montrose on June 7. They will sack groceries, stock shelves and talk to the customers for a day.
They plan to keep their clothes on.