Michael Galbreth, 1956-2019


Michael Galbreth, one half of the Houston-based conceptual art duo known as the Art Guys, died Oct. 19, due to complications from emergency heart surgery he’d undergone the previous week, the Houston Chronicle reported. Galbreth was 63.

Together as the Art Guys, Galbreth and Jack Massing practiced a kind of performance art that enlisted the tools, language and acts of marketing, branding and self-promotion to create staged activities, and made arts objects, that challenged traditional definitions of art.

“The Art Guys engage the media because we know media engages the culture,” Massing once told Texas Monthly.

Sometimes silly, always irreverent, and occasionally insensitive, Galbreth and Massing labeled their stunts “behavior artwork.” For “Suits: The Clothes Make the Man”, a 1998-99 project, the duo sold ad space on Todd Oldham-designed suits and spent a year wearing them around the country at appearances. The Art Guys later accused director Morgan Spurlock of plagiarism for wearing a logo-covered suit in his 2011 film “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.”

Much of the Art Guys’ work happened in Houston, a city where they enjoyed their highest profile. Once, they spent 24 hours in a van driving the Houston’s 610 Loop. Another time, they invited people to watch them eat at Denny’s for 24 hours. They walked ten miles around downtown Houston with buckets of water on their feet. While dressed in tuxedos, they conducted the sounds of the Houston Ship Channel.

Among the art objects the Art Guys made is “Travel Light,” a collection of illuminated suitcase sculptures installed atop luggage carousels in Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport, and “The Statue of Four Lies” a pair of bronze sculptures of the two artists on University of Houston campus.

Jack Massing and Michael Galbreth, The Art Guys, wearing the ad-covered suits from “Suits: The Clothes Make the Man.”

Not all of the Art Guys’ art stunts went over well. In 2009, with same-sex marriage at the fore of the nation’s civil rights consciousness, Galbreth and Massing garnered criticism both for “The Art Guys Marry a Plant,” their faux wedding to a tree, and for their public response to the criticism.

Born in Nashville, Galbreth met Massing when both arrived at the University of Houston in the early 1980s, recruited by sculptor James Surls to join the graduate art program. “There was just nothing like it,” Galbreth once told the Houston Chronicle of his early years in the city. “Super serious playtime.”

Galbreth is survived by his wife, Rainey Knudson, who founded the online Texas art publication Glasstire, and son, Tennessee Galbreth.

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
An award-winning arts journalist, Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is the founder and editor-in-chief of Sightlines.

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