Vaguely threatening campus art aims to confuse
The University is peppered with mysterious, vaguely inappropriate-looking statues. “The Statue of Four Lies,” however, may be the most intentionally perplexing of them all. Meant to unsettle and engage viewers, it sits and watches us all as we walk through campus, eager to get to our next lectures and meetings.
“The Statue of Four Lies” stands in Lynn Eusan Park. It features two men, Michael Galbreth and Jack Massing, who are UH alumni and the creators of the statue.
Galbreth and Massing are professionally known as the Art Guys. (They have a seriously interesting website.) The statue was unveiled in 2011 in a small, parade-like ceremony with cheerleaders and a petting zoo. A female student was named Ms. Four Lies.
Walking by the freshman dorms in Cougar Village I for the first time, UH students seem to have a particularly strong reaction to a set of statues on the northeastern side of the lodge.
The two gentlemen look oddly threatening into the vastness of the University. Their backs are otherwise protected by a curving wall, which leaves them symbolically invulnerable and prepared for an offensive measure.
Galbreth and Massing are actually pleased with student responses to the statue. In an interview with Houston Public Media, Galbreth said: “They might put things on the heads of the statues or dress them or paint them. We not only expect that, we desire that. We want them to interact with us.”
So what exactly are these Four Lies?
So far, I know only two of the statue’s falsehoods. It also guards a time-capsule, and the date on which it was sealed as well as the date of University’s 100th anniversary are incorrect.
According to an article written for the Daily Cougar in 2012, however, curator of the University Public Art Collection Michael Guidry said that there aren’t really four lies within the piece. The title is a lie in itself — meaning the whole piece is riddled with lies.
Here is what Guidry said in 2017:
“Four Lies is an intentional misnomer,” Guidry said. “The title was based on the”Statue of Three Lies” at Harvard. The Art Guys thought they could one-up Harvard and create Four Lies, making it better than Harvard. It’s a joke really. There aren’t four lies, there are many.”
The statue is one gigantic meta-lie.
The history of our Four Lies statue comes from Harvard University’s statue of the founder of Harvard, John Harvard, also known as the statue of Three Lies. According to harvard.edu, the three lies are as follows: John Harvard was not, as the inscription claims, the founder of Harvard University.
The statue is not actually even of John Harvard, but of a Harvard student chosen by artist Daniel Chester French in 1884. And the year of Harvard’s founding on the inscription is two years off.
But back to UH. The statues’ hands are peculiarly outstretched, leaving their audience to wonder if they are asking, possibly even demanding something, or if they are a bit more congenial and offering to show something.
One gentleman seems to have dropped a book, the other a wrench. In front of them lies a briefcase, a Latin inscription and a toothbrush. With so many seemingly pointless details, it is perhaps the peak of Dadaist art on the University’s grounds.
And maybe that is why the statue is so perplexing to young students who are entering into collegiate life and are largely confused about what that will entail. Statues — and all art — seems allegorical. Walking past that statue every day as an underclassman, you begin to wonder if the statue is saying something indecorous and allegorical about your education.
Are they benevolent stewards of education, or are they unsettling omens with a message to bear?
I think the artists wanted to confuse people and that they must have seen some value in perplexing our the students, faculty and staff who walk by it everyday.
“The Statue of Four Lives” is an homage to education and intellect, yes, but more importantly, to character. It is a tribute to the fact that while there may be things that we do not know, there is honor in the restless pursuit of the truth.
Assistant opinion editor Mia Valdez is a creative writing senior. She can be reached at [email protected]