TREEAGE Artist Ariane Littman wraps an ancient specimen at the Hizme checkpoint located at the northeastern entrance of Jerusalem in her performance called “The Olive Tree.” Rina Castelnuevo photo

Arbor Ardor

Tales of controversy amid sylvan splendor

By Lawrence Weschler


I don’t know, maybe it’s something in the air, but when it comes to my interactions with the art world these past several years, I’ve been continually dogged by trees (which, granted, is far better than its Django alternative, but still). Some of you may remember Houston’s great Art Guys’ tree wedding kerfuffle of a few seasons back − in November 2011, to be specific. Oy, do I remember it, because, dear reader, listen, I was the rebbe.

Earlier that year, I’d been interviewing the Guys about something else altogether when they told me about how a couple years before that, at a time when Texas politicians were lashing themselves into a righteous lather over the prospect of gay marriage (how, in the inimitable stylings of Gov. Rick Perry, if you sanctioned gays marrying each other, the next thing you knew you’d have people demanding to marry their dogs), the two of them had decided to marry a tree. They insisted, tongues lodged distinctly somewhere cheekward (though it was not entirely clear how deep), that their gesture had nothing to do with Perry or gay marriage or anything like that – that, if anything, it nodded in an ecological direction.

Anyway, they explained how back in 2009, since the sapling of their desires was still under age, they’d only gotten engaged (what kind of deviates did I take them for?), but that now that the tree in question had come of age, having reached sufficient height (i.e., theirs), and now that they had secured the Menil Collection’s commitment to lodge the bride as part of its collections in its own lush groves, they were now intending to hold a full-on wedding ceremony that coming November, and would I be willing to help officiate? I informed them that I only entertained such official functions in my sometime-somewhat role as rebbe, and to their credit, they did not blink.

Paper plane protest

Little did I know, and probably little did any of us know, but by the time November had rolled around, the impending ceremony had taken on the trappings of a full-blown PC meltdown scandal, with several members of the local gay constabulary having taken it into their heads that the Art Guys were making fun of them. The Houston Chronicle’s art critic at the time

hyperventilated about the way the Menil had allowed its hallowed name to become involved in an assault on what was, after all, “the human rights issue of our time.” At a sort of rally the night before the Menil ceremony, gay rights advocates and their supporters gathered at a local gay strip club, where the critic in question (just to register the sheer extent of the outraged community’s umbrage) subjected himself, in the time-honored spirit of civil disobedience, to the ultimate sacrifice, as he put it, to “marry a woman.” The celebrants were thereupon invited to fold that marriage’s announcements into (very sharp) paper airplanes and to reconvene the next morning at the Art Guys’ event.

Read the rest of this story in the Fall 2015 issue of Artenol. Order yours today

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