Renegade Mannequin Installation at the de Young Asks: What Is Art?

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I've always wanted to be a secret agent. The sneaking around, the mysterious assassinations, the beautiful women; it all looks so easy in the movies. The only bummer is how all of those covert operations start at the crack of dawn -- when my alarm goes off at 4 a.m., the only thing I want to assassinate is the clock. I was thinking about all of this on a recent Sunday while sitting in my car outside of Golden Gate Park at 5 a.m. I had dragged myself up with coffee and a Clif bar to meet classically trained actor and all around clown Jon Deline for a renegade art installation at the de Young Museum. When I saw a minivan with a missing headlight pull up, I knew it had to be him. Jon's brother came along to help out, and the three of us looked like friendly ninjas in our all black clothing.

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We were here to beg the question, What is art? Jon had been wearing a white bodysuit to museums like the de Young and SFMOMA for the last year and asking patrons how they would define art. But instead of just listening to the answers, he asked people to write them down on the suit. After the suit was covered in answers, he built an easel, and bought a full-size mannequin to wear the bodysuit. The idea of covertly installing a year's worth of opinions about art in front of the de Young was to, "present a philosophical game," in a place where they define art. Or something like that, I was just in it for the mysterious assassinations and beautiful women.

The brothers did their best to look suspicious by smoking cigarettes while I took a few photos, and then it was time to get all James Bond. They carried the equipment, and I walked ahead as the lookout. It turns out security at the de Young is not super tight at 5 in the morning -- at least not outside -- and the operation went off without a hitch. At one point, we all froze when a car pulled up and someone got out looking determined and angry, but it turned out he was just determined to get directions to the Academy of Sciences (talk about getting a jump on the day). With the art piece installed before daybreak, we crept out of the park -- three friendly ninjas going our separate ways -- this one back to bed.

Jon went back later to check on the mannequin but, "They were taking it down right when I got there, around 10 a.m." Regardless, he felt like the operation was a success. There were groups of runners and families around that got to see it he told me, adding, "Art is about expression, and not necessarily lasting forever." Jon has several projects like this in mind. He plans on wearing a white suit in front of Wells Fargo to ask, "What is money?" another at a hospital to ask, "What is healthcare?" and is even considering one that asks, "What is work?" Basically, Jon Deline likes to ask questions and make people think.

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I called and e-mailed the de Young for their thoughts on the installation, and to see how they feel about people leaving art in front of the museum at night, but all I've gotten back is a, "No comment at this time." Jon didn't let that get him down though. "It was a lot of fun, and hopefully this project has gotten someone to think," he told me, "even if it's just the security guards that took it away." It's definitely gotten me to think, although mostly about how much cooler my life would be if I really was a secret agent.

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De Young Museum

50 Hagiwara Tea Garden, San Francisco, CA

Category: General

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