The Art Guys

Image: Jack Thompson

Tunnel of Love
Feb 12–May 9
Free
One Allen Center Gallery
500 Dallas St. 
theartguys.com

Veteran Houston performance artists Jack Massing and Michael Galbreth, better known as The Art Guys, are famous for mocking corporations in works like SUITS: The Clothes Make the Man, in which they traveled across the country for a year in the late ’90s wearing black suits covered in sewn-on corporate logos. For their latest project, however, the Art Guys seem to have taken an if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them approach, partnering with Brookfield, a self-described "global alternative asset manager" that claims around $200 billion in assets around the world, including several downtown Houston skyscrapers.

One of those skyscrapers is One Allen Center, where on Thursday, just in time for Valentine’s Day, the Art Guys will unveil their new installation, Tunnel of Love. Displaying a secrecy that seems downright corporate, the Art Guys declined to release any advance photos of the work or even provide a description. In a recent phone conversation, however, Massing admitted that it’s based on an installation he and Galbreth originally created in 2000 for San Antonio’s Sala Diaz. Inspired by those hokey old Tunnel of Love carnival rides, The Art Guys transformed a small house museum into an interactive sensorium, with viewers crawling on hands and knees through a dark, perfumed space, accompanied by a soundtrack of musique concrete.

What is it about the Tunnel of Love ride that captured their imagination? “Just the intrigue and the mystery and the fun part of it,” Massing told me. “And also the lowbrow aesthetic. Not that that’s what they were after, that’s just what they produced. It was something that could make for short-term gain, not using the best construction methods. We’re kind of fans of that aesthetic, and our project reflects that.”

I recognize the value of maximizing the number of exhibition spaces in Houston, and admit that Brookfield has hosted some worthy shows, but I’m also on the record as being skeptical of holding art exhibitions in office buildings, especially in spaces that can be hard for outsiders to find and offer less than ideal viewing conditions. I also can’t help but question Brookfield’s motive in commissioning work like this—are they really just being good corporate citizens, disinterestedly providing a service to the local art community? Or is art merely another asset for this asset management company, a way to burnish their reputation and, not incidentally, decorate their showpiece office towers?

Time was when The Art Guys would have been the first to take the piss out of Brookfield for such pompous noblesse oblige. And since they refused to provide any information about their new installation, it's impossible to say whether Tunnel of Love might do just that. (Let's just hope it turns out better than the Art Guys' ill-conceived and ill-fated 2009 project The Art Guys Marry a Tree.) But one thing's for sure: the artists aren't apologizing for the collaboration. “In a way, Brookfield is like a small gallery or museum or hybrid,” Massing assured me when I asked about the propriety of partnering with the multinational behemoth. “They’re just another community member.”  

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