Idiocy Inc.

Jon Brumit and Marc Horowitz have made it their business to be the best-known art idiots in San Francisco.

So ... y'wanna ride a Big Wheel down Lombard?

"One other thing," Horowitz says. "Would you like some chili con carne?"

The cop nods.

Horowitz takes out a Sharpie, writes "chili con carne" on a Post-it, and hands it to the cop.

Brumit and Horowitz pass out "products" on Haight 
Street.
Paolo Vescia
Brumit and Horowitz pass out "products" on Haight Street.
Horowitz interacts with a passer-by.
Paolo Vescia
Horowitz interacts with a passer-by.

"Where do I get it?" the policeman asks.

"I don't know," Horowitz shrugs. "Maybe at that Mexican place up the street."

The officer, utterly puzzled, rolls away.


Brumit and Horowitz couldn't have been much happier with the outcome of their Haight foray. They were one step closer to accomplishing their goal of becoming the best-known jackasses in San Francisco.

To be fair, Brumit and Horowitz are classically trained painters with some standing in San Francisco art circles, and their quest is probably less about being known as idiots than about getting an audience. All the same, they do list the rotisserie-hawking Popeil brothers and the death-metal icon band Slayer as primary influences. And clearly they want to be known, far and wide, for a brand of absurdity that at times approaches, and even becomes, sheer stupidity.

To achieve such renown, on May 17 the pair formed Sliv & Dulet Enterprises. The move is part parody of local business culture (like so many dot-coms, they have no clue how they'll make money, and no useful product to offer) and part social experiment (they both claim to be obsessed with human idiosyncrasy).

But it is also an exercise in branding.

Wherever Brumit and Horowitz go, their logo and Web address follow. They want people to see them acting like idiots and to know that it's not just ordinary idiocy, but the Sliv & Dulet brand. To date, there's been no shortage of material.

Much to the befuddlement -- and occasional horror -- of strangers who have no idea they're interacting with performance artists, the duo has played "stuffed animal golf" over and along the Great Highway; consumed a "smoothie" consisting of rotten bananas, tuna, Tabasco sauce, and suntan lotion in front of a crowd of 200; and given -- and received -- haircuts with a hammer and chisel.

Before the two officially became a team, Brumit orchestrated a race of more than 30 adults on toy Big Wheels down steep, serpentine Lombard Street. Horowitz once hosted an art gallery opening that lasted all of 60 seconds.

Together, they figure they can make a name for themselves.

Or, at least, a brand.

"I guess we would like to be those guys," Horowitz says. "And then whenever anyone sees the logo they'll go, 'Hey it's those guys who were at that thing, drinking awful stuff!'"


Last November, Jon Brumit went down to Fisherman's Wharf with a modified drum strapped over his face, a few spare drumsticks, and a sign around his neck that said: "Drum on my face, $1."

He made $100.

"It's hard to interest people in beating on your head," says Brumit's mother, Lola, with an evident trace of pride in her soft Southern drawl. "But that's Jon."

Brumit, who sports a permanent half-grin that makes it difficult to tell when he's kidding, grew up in a place less accepting of eccentrics than San Francisco. "This is Chattanooga, Tennessee," his mother says. "We're very conventional here, and Jon was always really strange. ... It's a real challenge to have a son like that, because you find yourself always wondering what he's going to do next."

Growing up, she recalls, Jon's "next" thing tended to involve his skateboard, and a hospital visit.

"I was always very impressed because he'd build these huge ramps in our back yard," she recalls. "And then he'd go off these horrific ramps and [into] empty swimming pools, and he'd be doing flips no one else would try. ... I think it's safe to say we visited every ER in this town."

If Brumit's whimsy amused his mother, he says it got the opposite reaction from his father, a retired military officer.

"I don't know what's worse," he says. "Having a father who's never around, or having the retired military guy who says, 'I've wanted a son my whole life, and I got stuck with you.'"

Brumit didn't let his father's disapproval keep him from pursuing his expressive side. He majored in art at the University of Tennessee's Chattanooga campus, where -- even among art students -- he was considered strange. "He used to do things like paint on the floor instead of the wall," says Alan White, one of Brumit's professors. "His work was always very, very different. He liked to explore the areas between when a painting is a painting, and when it's something else."

Brumit was the first UT-C student ever admitted into the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., a place renowned for letting students follow genre-blurring paths. While he was there, Brumit began working with unusual materials in his paintings, among them sawdust and lint. "People there would tell me, 'We need more people who do what you do here,' and they were really supportive," Brumit recalls. "The work I'm doing now feels like a very natural progression from that."

After graduating from Cranbrook in 1999, he moved into an East Bay houseboat with his girlfriend of 10 years and quickly embarked on a number of unorthodox projects, which -- like Drum on My Face (2001) -- often required participation from an audience that didn't necessarily know it was an audience.

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