I need a bride, and time’s running out. I’m not picky about her looks, personality, upbringing or age, but the one trait I do require — that she, like me, write about art for a living, or part of one — is seriously narrowing my options.
One might assume my being gay would be a sticking point, but it hasn’t bothered the four colleagues I’ve asked so far. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s the only reason they considered my proposal, which also included the promise of a swift, amicable divorce.
Its brevity notwithstanding, the marriage would be a real one, complete with a license and all the rights and responsibilities that accompany the institution. The divorce, too, would be real. But they’d also comprise an artwork made in response to another artwork.
Some background: In 2009, the Houston conceptual duo known as the Art Guys — Michael Galbreth and Jack Massing — staged a mock wedding in which they pretended to marry a live oak sapling. I panned the performance, The Art Guys Marry a Plant, for reinforcing the homophobic “slippery slope” argument — that if gays are allowed to wed, then people will be allowed to marry animals, and so on. I chided them for using the No. 1 civil-rights issue in the U.S. as “a mechanism for us to crudely piggyback on,” as Galbreth put it, only to ignore the social context in which the “wedding” occurred because the piece wasn’t “about” gay marriage.
Fast forward to 2011. Toby Kamps, who commissioned the piece for a Contemporary Arts Museum Houston exhibit, is now a curator at the Menil Collection, which previously declined the Art Guys’ offer to give it to the museum, citing uncertainty about the master site plan. The tree was planted in Menil Park — close to the Rothko Chapel and Barnett Newman’s Broken Obelisk, which John and Dominique de Menil dedicated to slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. — in March and accepted into the collection in June.
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-Sentinel 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.
Each would have made a perfect wife. Marrying Graves would have been a heartfelt tribute to her editorial director, openly gay sex-advice columnist Dan Savage, who once obtained a marriage license with a lesbian coworker , Amy Jenniges, moments after Jenniges and her girlfriend were denied. Schumacher not only covers art in Kamps’ home town but is part of a Brangelina-style couple that doesn’t want to marry until the gays can too.
Her blog title aside, Johnson would have come with another built-in play on words, since my predecessor at the Houston Chronicle, Patricia C. Johnson, is known around the art scene as Patty. And who better to marry on a lark than Lark, whose catchy surname I might have adopted and kept even after the divorce?
But it was not to be — times four. Graves, who is engaged, cited a mix of personal and logistical factors that prevented her from marrying me, however briefly, which is too bad, because her fiance, Yonnas Getahun, is an ordained minister and could have performed the ceremony. Schumacher, conscious of her role at a big-city daily, was concerned about how the nuptials would be interpreted by her editors and readers. (Not me. No one’s going to tell this proud gay man what woman he can and cannot marry.)
Johnson, a Canadian with a green card, got the green light from her immigration lawyer only to have her parents object. Lark, a divorcée, was thrilled at being my fourth choice for a wife until she remembered she gets alimony. (A fifth critic, Anne Bothwell, director of KERA Public Radio/Television’s Art&Seek Initiative in Dallas, did not return an email seeking matrimony.)
Barring a last-minute bridal contender — hey, Glasstire writer Beth Secor , are you still single? — The Art Critics Marry Each Other looks destined to end up as an Art Guys-style “failed scheme.” That’s a shame, because showing up married to the Menil’s tree dedication ceremony would have demonstrated why the Art Guys were wrong to call their stunt a “behavior” instead of a performance.
More poignantly, it would have underscored the maddening absurdity of marriage inequality: My betrothal to a random female colleague would have a legal validity missing not just from the Art Guys’ “marriage” to the tree but from every committed U.S. gay couple’s marriage, even those performed in places where it’s legal. A gay marriage in, say, Iowa, turns into an honorary degree the second the couple crosses state lines.
Maybe the difficulties my would-be fiances and I have encountered make those points sufficiently. They may have to. Since Texas requires a 72-hour wait between obtaining a marriage license and performing the ceremony, I’ve only got until Nov. 15 to find a bride and get down to the county clerk’s office. If you’re a single female art critic, or you know someone who is, drop me a line. Now.
Regardless, the Nov. 19 ceremony will ostensibly complete the Art Guys’ piece, but let’s not kid ourselves. The Art Guys staged the mock wedding, but it’s the Menil that agreed to the lifetime commitment — and into tarnishing its standards and its civil-rights legacy.
The Art Guys didn’t marry that plant; the Menil did. If only the museum could get out of this marriage as easily as Kim Kardashian can hers.
THE ART GUYS MARRY A PLANT
A dedication ceremony with speakers Toby Kamps, Lawrence Weschler and James Surls
When: 10:30 a.m. Nov. 19
Where: Menil Park on the Menil Collection  campus, 1515 Sul Ross; 713-525-9400