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Whither the Avant-Garde?... To Suburbia, Of Course!

Wednesday, Mar 8 2000
Whither the Avant-Garde?
Sure, San Francisco's Board of Supervisors wants to ban the sale of Michelin's "Scorchers" line of tires. But, apparently, the supervisors haven't considered that, in the name of protecting property values from the threat posed by red, blue, and yellow pavement skid marks, they may be censoring art.

Guy Overfelt's most notable recent San Francisco project was the "Free Beer" show last year at the Refusalon gallery on Hawthorne, during which gallerygoers consumed 36 kegs of beer. ("That's 6,000 cups of 12-ounce beers," notes the artist. "I'd say it was completely successful.") Of course, there were episodes of vomiting among the patrons -- but then, if we can remain complacent whilst contemplating art, is it really art?

Overfelt has shifted his focus to his car, a 1977 Trans Am with a screaming eagle hood decal and a "plush red interior. It's the full-on Smokey and the Bandit model," he says. The car has been modified for drag racing, with a brake line lock that allows the rear wheels to spin in place before the driver releases the brakes in the front. (Note: The Trans Am was a rear-wheel-drive car, for those of you too sophisticated to be familiar with such an automobile.) Overfelt says the friction "pre-softens" the tires, allowing him to lay down particularly clear markings, which he terms "drawings." He uses two sets of Michelin's Scorchers (in Scorching Yellow and Raging Red) for his works, and has invested in a hydraulic jack so he can switch between the colors more easily.

The "Burnout Project" is "in the lineage of landscape artists like Christo or Richard Long," he explains. Or that guy who makes piles of rocks and then photographs them, Dog Bites suggested, and Overfelt agreed, but neither of us could think of his name. Overfelt's works are, similarly, temporary alterations of the landscape. "It's just particles of loose rubber on asphalt," he says. "The lines just disappear after a time."

In a few months, Overfelt will have a show at New York's AC Project Room, which will feature photos of his pavement drawings, and another show at New York's Bronwyn Keenan Gallery for which he is collaborating with Frank Kozik on a series of soft-porn paintings featuring the Trans Am and various women, modeled on works that appeared in Rally Girl magazine in the 1970s. In the meantime, he says he's trying to grow a mullet. "It's kind of hard," he observes. "You know, you have to get the back long enough, and then getting the top really flat isn't that easy. And I totally want to go to Sears and get my Sears portrait done."

Oh, come on -- isn't this whole project just an ironic comment on suburban culture? "No, I really think it's cool," insists Overfelt.

So in retrospect, which of the pavement burnouts has been, in his opinion, most successful? "I think the Oracle parking lot [drawing] was pretty good," says Overfelt. "Some were straight parallel lines, so they narrowed in the distance and suggested the relationship of the work to the landscape. And some were more ... doughnutlike."

Despite our burning dedication to professionalism, Dog Bites broke down into hysterical laughter at this point, mostly because we recalled that during high school the "Immigrant Song" had been especially inspirational for work in this medium, and the sense memories were almost too much for us. However, Overfelt, who confesses to being a native of San Clemente, wasn't offended. "Or some people call them American crop circles," he volunteered. "You know, they're definitely part of the landscape."

... To Suburbia, Of Course!
There's no nice way to say this. If you live in San Francisco, and you make less than $100,000 a year, you're screwed.


Dog Bites, waiting endlessly on the platform for an N Judah that apparently was not coming ("The next inbound train is going out of service. Do not board."), had plenty of time to stare across the tracks at Microsoft's recruitment posters and reflect on the Chronicle's news story about starting salaries for lawyers, creepily illustrated with what seemed to us a surplus of photos (three!) of one young lawyer doing stretches in her running outfit.

"Heather M. Shane was resigned to renting an apartment in San Francisco because her $95,000 salary and $5,000 bonus weren't enough to buy [a home]," the story began, creating dramatic tension for readers before revealing that Shane, who graduated from law school 10 months ago, had just been given a raise to $125,000, with a further $25,000 in bonuses, and was now able to dream once again the American dream of owning her own place, even though the average condo costs $435,000 in the city. Dog Bites brushed away a small, sentimental tear; sometimes there really are happy endings.

Of course, this revelation came on top of last week's story on the city's thriving job market for writers and editors who report on e-business. "Top writers at the new breed of business magazines are routinely drawing six-figure salaries," noted the Chron's Dan Fost, before quoting Industry Standard CEO John Battelle: "Talent is the most valuable thing we have. ... That's why we have stock options, and benefits, and massage therapists. Do you have to coddle your editors? Yes. They're the backbone of the business."

Sigh. Oh. Where were we? Well, anyone who's read much of what passes for journalism in these various publications may be forgiven for thinking that perhaps there's too much coddling, and not enough, say, yelling going on in their editorial suites -- but still.

Anyhow, until someone -- perhaps even an elected official! Though it seems unlikely -- emerges with a plan to make it feasible for those of us not working for an e-biz journal to imagine an actual future in this city, Dog Bites recommends we all pacify ourselves by focusing on acquiring consumer goods. A home may be forever beyond your reach -- but you can still treat yourself to a sharp-looking ice bucket, right?

Or, as Charles Purdy writes to confess, "I just know that once Ikea opens I'll be able to live a happy, fulfilling life in rooms like the ones in the catalog."

Actually, Ikea's Emeryville parking lot alone is enough to make Dog Bites weep with joy. Parenthetically, several weekends back we were down at the Bed Bath & Beyond at Ninth and Brannan, stuck in an unmoving line of cars snaking around the upper level of the parkade and trying not to think of the word "earthquake," when up ahead of us one wily man took a parking space another man thought was his.

The latter stormed over to the former and began screaming, fuchsia-faced, eventually following the alleged space-thief -- "fucking dickhead loser" -- part of the way to the staircase off the roof. This was too much for Dog Bites, cringing behind the wheel and hoping neither man would take a swing at the other; we crept back out of the lot without making any further attempt to park, and plan not to return if at all possible, even if we have to drive to Santa Rosa to shop at the BB&B there.

Ah, Santa Rosa -- only an hour up the 101 if you go early on a weekend morning when there's practically no traffic, yet a world away! Santa Rosa, where new tract homes start at $230,000! Santa Rosa, where lovingly maintained blacktop acreages remind us why suburbia, even suburbia an hour up the 101, is not such a bad place if you're an adult and actually have errands you need to complete in your one day off work a week, as opposed to optional shopping trips for zebra-print ponyskin mules or a Hard Candy glitter candle set. Suburbia whispers seductively, "Go ahead, get that 30 -pound box of Everclean cat litter. You know you want it. And you can take it to your car in a shopping cart. And an agitated man on a cell phone won't be trailing you the whole way in his silver A-4, blasting his horn to let you know he wants your parking space, either." (Incidentally, Dog Bites would like to say to you, sir, now that we are safely in our office, which requires an electronic key to enter, "Fucking dickhead loser.")

And now that artists are rediscovering the allure of suburbia, can hipster young ad execs be far behind? Soon, the Mission will be the preserve of lumpen software company HR managers and their pallid, private-school-educated youngsters, while the avant-garde and its hangers-on homestead live-work spaces in converted 7-Elevens in El Cerrito, Dublin, and -- yes -- Santa Rosa.

Or at least, that's how we see it. Meanwhile: only 35 shopping days until Ikea!

Tip Dog Bites -- especially if you're disgruntled. Phone 536-8139; fax 777-1839; e-mail

About The Author

Laurel Wellman


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