Who owns the tree The Art Guys “married”?
Somebody’s lying about what happened to the tree and plaque comprising The Art Guys Marry a Plant. The Art Guys and Glasstire founder Rainey Knudson — a wife of one of The Art Guys — say the Menil Collection removed the artwork from its collection, and other media outlets have duly repeated their account. But Menil director Josef Helfenstein told Texas Monthly writer Mimi Swartz that “The Menil Collection and the Art Guys removed the work The Art Guys Marry a Plant from the grounds where it has been on view since 2011. The Menil Collection wishes to make clear that it has not de-accessioned the work, nor has it taken any steps toward de-accessioning the work, which continues to be a part of the institution’s collection.”
Either The Art Guys own the piece or are merely acting as off-site storage for it on behalf of the real owner, the Menil. The distinction matters. If The Art Guys and Knudson want to make a case that the Menil acted improperly in rotating the piece off view, let them. Of course, that would put them in the awkward position of arguing that somehow their piece, unlike the museum’s Magrittes, Picassos, Rothkos, etc., is too important ever to be taken off view. Now, putting a piece into storage to avoid dealing with the controversy around it is a pretty cowardly thing for a museum to do, but it’s nowhere near as bad as de-accessioning it. And The Art Guys, whose practice is all about branding, have chosen to respond the damage to their own brand by trying to inflict as much damage as possible on other people’s — first mine, then Hiram Butler’s, and now the Menil’s. So instead of attacking the Menil on legitimate but less scandal-worthy grounds, they used an influential media platform to accuse the Menil of one of the gravest possible sins — de-accessioning in order to avoid controversy.
Unless Helfenstein is lying. Hard to see how he could get away with it, though.
Still, the cognitive dissonance it takes to absorb the rest of Helfenstein’s statement to Swartz is overwhelming:
The Menil is fully aware of the intense responses that have arisen regarding this work. The Menil has engaged in numerous discussions with parties who have felt injured or offended because the work was being displayed, and parties who have felt injured or offended because the work has been vandalized and might not be displayed. The Menil has preferred to conduct these conversations in private.
The Menil seeks to engage in a vigorous conversation about contemporary works of art and their subjects. We exhibit sometimes controversial works and organize public discussions of the issues they raise, including same-sex love and gender identity. In this regard, we are proud to be presenting the current exhibition The Progress of Love and the forthcoming exhibition Forrest Bess.
Huh? Where’s the public discussion of the issues raised by The Art Guys Marry a Plant? We’re still waiting.