Hunt, David. "Art Crime" Index Magazine, Fall 1998


Six months ago conceptual provocateur Guy Overfelt, cruising in his vintage 1977, black Pontiac Trans Am with a giant golden eagle emblazoned across the hood, pulled up abruptly to the curb in front of a crowd of eager gallery goers in the night club district of San Francisco's trendy SOMA area. Quickly hopping out of his car and slamming the door, Overfelt retreated to the back of the car and proceeded to pour a mixture of bleach and water-two thick puddles cozying up to the rear tire. Working quickly, he jumped back in the bucket seats, locked the brakes, then slammed on the gas spinning the rear tires for a full 20 seconds while thick, sheer white pillows of smoke, emerging genie-like, enveloped the enthusiastic crowd as the vehicle disappeared down the street. The smoke was so thick you could barely see your hand in front of your face, an eloquent alchemy of "now you see it, now you don't" without the Vegas fireworks or Magic Kingdom histrionics.

getting busted by the SFPD doing a performance burnout
in my 1977 Smokey and The Bandit Trans AM
video, color, sound, 1 minute 27 seconds

As Overfelt prepared to speed away, leaving the crowd in a literal "cloud of dust," a siren and flashing light pulled up right behind him and you can bet the cop wasn't contemplating this year's Turner Prize or Hugo Boss winner. Charged with "criminal misdemeanor, speed contest, code sec. 23109(C)," basically what amounts to a speeding ticket, Overfelt was surprised to find that in the box designated for approximate speed, the cop had marked ZERO miles per hour-surely it would by thrown out in court and art would prevail. In order to keep this performance going and extend the the piece, its resonance in the public imagination, he turned his ticket into an invitation to his hearing in traffic court, running into interference when various printers he approached thought he was trying to falsify documents.

Weeks later, while Overfelt's fingerprints and mugshot were being taken, a small crowd assembled in the court room as the judge explained that the penalty, if he were to lose his case, stood at 90 days in jail, $1,000 fine, AND the suspension of his license. To document the proceedings, he hired famous courtroom illustrator Walter Stewart, the same man who had recently worked on the O.J. Simpson, Unabomber, and Polly Klass cases, and had gotten his start way back in the 60's drawing portraits of Jack Ruby, on trial for the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald. Gazing around the hearing room at hardened criminals in orange jumpsuits and leg shackles, Overfelt propositioned high profile, pot-smoking, liberal crusader Tony Serra to defend his case. Actor James Woods portrayed Serra in the Hollywood movie "True Believer," as a wily,creative tactician with deep personal commitment to unfavorable causes-the kind of cases no one else will take.

untitled (courtroom sketch series: judge no. 2)
framed marker on paper
20 X 24 in.
courtroom sketch: Vicky Behringer

Overfelt got to thinking about artist Mel Henderson, who with a team of people, called one hundred Yellow Cabs to converge simultaneously on the corner of Market and Castro, the gay mecca of San Francisco, while he filmed the spectacle from a helicopter overhead. Yellow Cab sued Henderson for disrupting their service, but the case was thrown out when the judge learned that everyone paid their cab fare. Overfelt realized that certain art projects that invoke legal entanglements benefit from a full court hearing, and even a jury trial, by involving the public in an open debate about censorship, privacy, and public expression. Ultimately, the longer the piece, the more material the artist has to work with.

Overfelt explained that "the myth of the courtroom drama helps propel the myth of the work itself"-the artist Doug Hall, working with the collaborative group TruthCo, dressed up as John F. Kennedy, but was turned away by disgusted security guards when he tried to enter the Kennedy Museum in Texas, effectively ending his artistic protest and the life of the piece. Alternatively, the documentary "Dream Deceivers" focuses on two youths who attempted suicide after listening to a Judas Priest heavy metal album backwards, claiming it contained Satanic messages urging them to do it. The lengthy court case initiated by the parents against the band was a triumph for music and free expression, exposing the plaintiff's as dopey, knee-jerk fundamentalists out to soak the record industry.Needless to say, the band's vindication spelled profits and the continued success of future albums.

Initially the car was chosen as a critique of early product placement: Pontiac spent lavishly on advertising when the car appeared in the "Smokey and the Bandit" movies in the late 70's, riding the coattails of the movie's success with future massive rollouts of the same model. From Reese's Pieces in Spielberg's, "E.T.: The Extraterrestrial," to "Mulan" Happy Meals at McDonald's, product placement has become an ever-present blight on the cultural landscape. Fitting, since Overfelt considers himself, "A landscape artist painting the decrepit disillusionment of the American nightmare-it's all bullshit and I'm painting pretty pictures about it. My car, your tax dollars-it's all there as medium, and no, the medium is not the message."

no. 032, all my red shop rags from working on my Trans AM (after howard fried)
oil on rag, strecher bars
10 x 10 in