“For one person to do something that is seemingly stupid is one person doing something stupid. But when you have two people doing something stupid, it is more than that because it implies a communal activity. I think it welcomes people into the dialog.”—Mike Galbreth

Michael Galbreth + Jack Massing: The Art Guys / Houston TX

“for one person to do something that is seemingly stupid is one person doing something stupid. but when you have two people doing something stupid, it is more than that because it implies a communal activity. i think it welcomes people into the dialog.”—mike galbreth

What is The Art Guys process?
Mike: It happens all different ways, and it has changed over the years.

Jack: It derives from discussions and a long history and a long collection of ideas that we’ve batted around. We happen to be fairly similar in our humor and our interests and our desire to make things that are not necessarily art, although we fall into the category of art. We do believe that art is something that is incredibly important in the bigger scheme of things, and that everything resides inside the idea of art. The collaboration is something that occurs in every shade that you could think of between 100% of Mike doing something to 100% of me doing something. Sometimes we totally do whatever we want to do, and sometimes we do things that we really bat around and go 50-50.

The Art Guys Agree on Painting

courtesy of the art guys

Mike: There are two of us, so if there are profoundly bad mistakes made by us, then it means that two of us have fucked up. Generally speaking, any problems that The Art Guys may make are often mediated before they come to life.

Early on within The Art Guys structure, we called our philosophy of working, the Theory of Wrongheadedness, wherein we would choose to do the wrong thing at the wrong time for the wrong reasons and use the wrong material. Sometimes things can be so wrong as to seem right. There’s something about that. And there is something about that structure that is recognizable. All of this is just thinking about the world. Why is it that, as artists, we have chosen to do this rather than something else?

Can you talk about the skill sets that you guys possess individually?
Jack: We bring our own stuff to the table. Mike is unbelievably intelligent and very receptive and efficient. He gets things done very directly; I fiddle around too much, but fiddling around can become very fruitful. When we are faced with a task, we both hit it head on and knock it out on time and under budget. We are very receptive, and we often comment to each other that we could open up an ad firm or a design firm. We can do so many different things as a team and be successful, but managing and dealing with “artwork” has been really interesting to us. I think it is a little more difficult and a little more risky than producing a product that can be bought and sold.

Bill and Peter

courtesy of the art guys

Is there a specific piece that you feel reflects both of your perspectives?
Jack: They all have both of us in there. I suppose that our performance work could probably reveal more and be understood best that way. When we are on stage, you can actually see us doing what we do. Although we decide beforehand what we were going to do, we don’t necessarily rehearse. Because we don’t rehearse, we are not really performing; we are behaving. Behavior on stage may not be very desirable for an audience. That doesn’t necessarily matter to us; we are coming at it from a sculptural point of view, where you have a task and you do it. In a way, it is a Fluxus idea, where you come up with an idea conceptually and then perform it. The performer is not necessarily the focus of the audience’s attention, it is the idea. Unfortunately, people who are sitting there in a comfortable seat are expecting to be entertained, and that is something that we like to mess with.

Bucket Feet

courtesy of the art guys

Mike: Most of the public event things are much more effective than other works of ours because there are two of us. For one person to do something that is seemingly stupid is one person doing something stupid. But when you have two people doing something stupid, it is more than that because it implies a communal activity. I think it welcomes people into the dialog. I think those things that we do in public, the so called “out in the streets” things, work much better as collaborative things.

What project do you feel is particularly interesting or successful?
Jack: We did a project where we leased advertising space on our suits for a year. It was just a couple of suits that we wore around everywhere, and it became iconographic. That piece is so nuanced and valuable to us in many ways because it had many different elements in it, and we tried to derive an income from it. We tried to make it interesting socially, physically, and in a performative way over a year-long span. It took us a year to produce it before we started wearing it. We spent about a year cleaning it up, making a documentary, and a book, so all together it was about a three-year project that resulted in so many different residual products or ways to understand and view the work. We had to be performative. We had to wear it around every day and clean it and talk about it endlessly while we were wearing it. We were dealing with the media, and it all worked out to our original vision.

Dueling Trombones

courtesy of the art guys

Do you have an example of how the collaborative process enabled you to resolve something?
Mike: I remember one situation that happened early on that was difficult, and it had nothing to do with any conflict between us. We had proposed to work with a temporary public art situation and it was rejected for very poor reasons. I was ready to walk away because I didn’t need that in my life, and I didn’t care if they didn’t like it. But Jack is much more of a conciliatory person and he said, “Why don’t we just come up with another idea?” and it worked out well.

You learn a lot from working together. We usually have a pretty good sense of whether something is bad or if it is good in the moment. As far as the work is concerned, there is usually not that much disagreement at all. For example, we are often asked to be judges for student exhibitions, or to choose works for something. We can go around the room, and even though there may be 100 works to look at, we are done in five minutes. As judges for a show, it is funny that we both invariably agree exactly on what works are the best without consulting during the judging process; we often don’t talk to each other while we are judging. This happened recently. The process for judging that show was to make a list, ordering the best first and the worst last. And by God, our lists were the same. They were identical. I don’t think that it is an accident. It comes from clear thinking and work and recognition that some things are better than other things.

Two Grown Men Can’t Pull it Apart

courtesy of the art guys

Why the emphasis on humor in the work?
Mike: Neither of us are particularly sad people. But that doesn’t mean anything in the context of our work. The work has nothing to do with us individually. It is multifaceted. I am committed to the idea of sharing ideas. It seems useless to me to turn out the lights and sit in a closet and live your life that way. The Art Guys have always been doing things in public, and when you do things in public, you want attention. You want a dialogue. For example, a human characteristic that happens when people meet, is they shake hands, touch, and smile. It is a welcoming thing, and humor can often be welcoming. Once you have their attention, once they are in the room, then you can do what you want. Then you can engage them in the ideas.

Jack: Slapstick always seems to work, because it is not language-based. I think that has a lot to do with art too. The juxtaposition of things is universal.