The University of Houston Magazine

Icon Job

‘Four Lies’ Statue and Codex Add Up to a Playful Puzzle.

by Eric Gerber (’72, M.A. ’78)

StatueStatueWhen the artists-cum-comedians known as The Art Guys unveiled their “Statue of Four Lies” at UH, many viewers found themselves charmed ... and challenged.

The sculpture, which presents larger-than-life bronze depictions of Art Guys Michael Galbreth (M.F.A. ’84) and Jack Massing (’84) in theatrically arch poses, seems to suggest there’s some elaborate, secret meaning behind it. The figures stand alongside commemorative plaques filled with claptrap and clumsy “lies” — stating the statue was erected in 1983, not 2010 — and cautionary Latin phrases such as “Mundus Vult Decipi, Ergo Decipiatur” (The world wants to be deceived, so let it). Surrealistic, Magritte-ish objects like a suitcase, a toothbrush, a book and a wrench add another note of symbolic whimsy.

What does it all mean?

Some have dismissed all of this as winking, pseudo- intellectual japery aimed at those who would overanalyze and overinterpret. Others have been captivated by the statue’s vaguely mysterious air and believe that behind the deliberate lies and deception is an explanation — or at least a good punch line — still waiting to be deciphered.

The latest chapter in this saga is the arrival of The Art Guys’ official Codex of the Statue of Four Lies, which is now available for perusal in the M.D. Anderson Library Special Collections.

CodexIt’s a fascinating manuscript — six dozen or so oversized sheets filled with arcane drawings, ludicrous illustrations, overly precise diagrams, enigmatic instructions and philosophical allusions. On one page, a period photo shows a woman proudly displaying two giant bullfrogs. On another, an aerial view of the statue reveals it to be a giant smiley face. There are even treasure map references, like taking 42 paces in the direction one figure points. Keep in mind that “lie” also can refer to a location.

Fascinating and, for those wanting the codex to deliver the simple truth behind the infuriating.

So, are the eccentric statue and its curious codex just another Art Guys spoof or are they a knotty puzzle still waiting to be unraveled?

The answer is, like Art itself, in the eye of the beholder.