Houston already has its fair share of public monuments dedicated to figures of notoriety and multi-disciplinary artists Michael Galbreth and Jack Massing, better known as The Art Guys, want to turn this tradition on its head. “Typically, public monuments are commemorative to someone famous—a politician or a sports figure,” says Massing. But in their proposed project Every Man A King, which borrows its name from infamous corrupt Louisiana governor Huey P. Long, The Art Guys plan to build a public monument dedicated to the every man.
“No one has to buy a ticket, everyone in the city is included and, potentially, anyone can be selected,” says Massing. The Art Guys will develop the largest possible pool of Houston residents to choose from by combing through mountains of public records, then choosing the subject from the resulting database at random. Any resident may be picked to pose for the statue, regardless of age, race, gender or vocation, which means a teacher, firefighter, homemaker or dentist may represent the city alongside Sam Houston.
The creative duo intends to incorporate the statue model into the monument, which will also include a time capsule and documentary about the city. Massing says with a laugh, “If the chosen Houstonite is nuts about a parrot, who always sits on his shoulder, then they might have a parrot on their shoulder in the monument.” And finally, unveiling notwithstanding, The Art Guys will use 3D laser scan technology to render a precise portrait of the individual.
There are some unknown factors. Undoubtedly, there are Houston residents off public records. And every man means every man. According to The Art Guys, there is a small chance that an already well-known figure may be chosen, such as beloved Houston Mayor Annise Parker. These factors don’t deter the duo. “For us that’s the interest of the piece.”
For over 25 years, The Art Guys have used their fearlessness and curiosity to create pieces that provoke an audience to both laughter and thought. Their installation for SUITS: The Clothes Make the Man, mounted commercial advertising on a Museum of Fine Arts wall. Conversely, their 1,000 Coats of Paint project plastered high art on billboards commissioned by Absolut Vodka. And in a previous work in public monuments, The Statue of Four Lies, the pair enlisted the help of the UH cheer squad to unveil statues of themselves.
“We like to engage with the world, not with the art world.” Galbreth argues that showing art at the MFA is equal to showing art at an H-E-B. “In many ways,” Galbreth says, “I’m far more interested in grocery stores than museums. I think they’re a better indication of a society.”