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?

His biggest splash to date has come from the "Bring Your Own Big Wheel" race, which sent dozens of people on plastic tricycles careening wildly out of control down Lombard Street's crooked curves, puzzling and delighting spectators and enraging Lombard's prickly neighborhood association.

The race made a big enough impression that a television production group is trying to air a version of it on the Fox Sports network. While the producer of the show denies any prior knowledge of Brumit's race, the two are currently, if tenuously, working together.

Brumit says the event was inspired by a discarded Big Wheel he found in the trash, which is frequently a source of his inspiration. "This part of West Oakland is kind of the place where people just sort of conveniently leave the gates on their flatbeds open," he says, standing outside his studio in a particularly desolate location. "It's a good place to find junk."

Horowitz (left) and Brumit ride Big Wheels down 
Lombard Street.
Paolo Vescia
Horowitz (left) and Brumit ride Big Wheels down Lombard Street.
IRS employee Scott Mazzola, accepting Horowitz's 
invitation, rides a stationary bike counter to Haight 
Street traffic.
Paolo Vescia
IRS employee Scott Mazzola, accepting Horowitz's invitation, rides a stationary bike counter to Haight Street traffic.

His warehouse studio space is a testament to that: At least 10 Big Wheels hang from the ceiling; a giant, discarded organ sits in the corner. An abandoned exercise bike rests in another. One of his favorite studio pastimes is playing pingpong with two paddles he found in the garbage, on an impossibly short work table he found at a rummage sale, using balls someone else had thrown out.

The trash theme has served him well. An exhibition of musical instruments he constructed from found objects is on display in one of the highly visible windows at Berkeley's Amoeba Music, and will be up for at least six more months. (This has not been well received by the people who hang out outside the window; they recently cut the wires to the window's speakers, which were playing music from the instruments.)

Continuing the strange-music theme: A recent organ show at Oakland's Door.7.Gallery featured Brumit -- wearing his drum helmet -- providing the percussion for an organ ensemble by taking tennis balls in the face from a serving machine.

"People were on the floor," recalls the gallery's owner, Ivan Blackshear.

There's no doubt that watching someone get hit in the face is funny, but is it art?

"I think there's a serious side to his work," says Blackshear. "Think hard about the Big Wheel race. Life really is a hard ride down a steep slope."

Blackshear's not the only one who sees merit in Brumit's art. Later this month Brumit starts a much-coveted residency at San Francisco's dump, an appointment artists seek because it gives them access to tons of raw materials they'd never get elsewhere. The residency comes with a guaranteed show at the end. It also pays $1,600 per month, which isn't a bad rate for going through trash.

Brumit first expressed an interest in the residency last summer. While attending an event at the dump's on-site studio, he met Horowitz, 26, then a San Francisco Art Institute student who had been doing an unpaid residency there. Eventually, the two became close collaborators.

"We couldn't stop hanging out. ... I'd just come out of business school and decided the degree was pretty worthless," Horowitz says. "I figured this would be my school."

Marc Horowitz has a business degree from Indiana University.

Recently, he's been weighing the benefits and downsides of living in a bread van.

Not long ago he was seen -- with Brumit -- drinking a "Smoothie for the Afterlife" that contained yogurt, suntan lotion, rotting bananas, canned tuna, hand lotion, Tabasco, hot cocoa, and aspirin in front of 200 people at the "death" portion of San Francisco's DadaFest.

And his mother is thrilled.

"Jon is a great influence for Marc," says Karen Meyer. "He's like an older brother to Marc. ... [Marc] really needs the support."

Horowitz -- whose trim build and wavy near-mullet make him look a bit like a blond version of the comedian Carrot Top -- didn't grow up with much in the way of role models or stability. Meyer says she's been sober for 15 years, but acknowledges her drinking had its effects on her son -- and that was only the beginning of the troubles. She divorced his late father, Burton Horowitz, when Marc was 7. They were living in Westerville, Ohio, a small college town not far from Columbus, but then wound up moving three times: first to Indiana, then to California, and then Marc moved back to Indiana to live with family friends when Meyer took a teaching job in the Arizona desert.

After remarrying, Marc's father wanted nothing to do with his previous family. "It's a very difficult thing to watch a father reject a son," Meyer says. "There was nothing Marc could do that would get him attention."

Now, of course, he's become quite skilled at attracting it.

After graduating from Indiana, where he remembers being "the only kid in the business school with my nose and tongue pierced," Horowitz went through what his mother describes as a breakdown. He had realized there was little he could do with his degree that didn't repulse him.

"I went into business because I wanted to make lots of money and support my mother," he says. "But I didn't realize the sacrifices it takes to make that much money. I wasn't willing to work 100-hour weeks for something I didn't care about."

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