Should I Marry Douglas Britt? (A Contemporary Art Critic's Dilemma)
by Jen Graves
on Wed, Nov 9, 2011 at 8:59 AM
Here's the gist: In June 2009, two Texas artists who go by the name The Art Guys make an artwork called The Art Guys Marry a Plant. The two straight guys marry a live oak sapling in a ceremony at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
They tell the Houston art critic Douglas Britt that it's nice they can ride the publicity coattails of the gay-rights marriage discussion, but “I don’t even care about that,” one of the Art Guys tells Britt. “It doesn’t even warrant discussion. I’m happy that the issue is out there because it helps promotes us, in a crude sense, when the people mistakenly think that it’s a political gesture, which to my mind, it’s not.”
Britt slams the piece in the Houston Chronicle for its careless whimsy, when meanwhile gay couples around the world are fighting for basic rights, from protection from being jailed and killed to marriage.
Then, this fall, things get more urgent. The Menil Collection—currently enjoying a resurgence in its reputation for supporting civil-rights causes, in this book—decides to acquire The Art Guys Marry a Plant. And the piece will find a permanent home on the outdoor grounds of the Menil, sharing space with icons by Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman.
This is when Douglas Britt asks me to marry him.
Unfortunately, I didn’t hear about the accession until September, so I’ve had little time to execute a response before the dedication on Nov. 19. I ultimately settled on staging a piece called The Art Critics Marry Each Other. (Because the Art Guys’ brand of performance is largely meant to confound criticism, I thought readers — and perhaps the Menil — might find it helpful to see what really marrying for art, not pretending to, could look like. Besides, I can’t support the remedy some have suggested — that rogue elements harm the tree, which never had a say in the matter. Make art, not herbicide.)
It turns out trying to legally marry an art critic blurs the boundary between art and life quite a bit more effectively than pretending to marry a plant. Maybe too much more effectively. While four colleagues I asked — Jen Graves, art critic of the Stranger, a Seattle alt-weekly; Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal art and architecture critic Mary Louise Schumacher; Paddy Johnson, New York-based editor of the blog Art Fag City; and Houston artist Laura Lark, who writes for Glasstire — said they loved the idea, their lives got in the way.
In my case, there were several factors, above all that I'm planning my actual wedding (happening in April).
But I'm still torn. I despise the idea that art evades politics just because a couple of clueless (heartless?) artists say it does—and then that they're rewarded by a major museum.
What do you say, Slog? Is The Art Critics Marry Each Other a compelling and effective enough protest to drop everything for? And should I do it especially because it's an homage to Amy and Dan?
UPDATE: I'm adding a poll, which may or may not be legally binding. (For the record, my fiance says whatever I want to do, he supports.)