How does one get from 15th-century tapestries illustrating the King of Portugal's military conquests to an elaborate prank perpetrated against the region's top federal prosecutor?
Last month, the San Diego Museum of Art invited the culture-jamming Yes Men to participate in its Summer Salon Series inspired by The Inven tion of Glory, an exhibition of the propaganda-like Pastrana Tapestries. The next thing U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy knew, someone was sending out press releases in her name, claiming she was going after local pharmacies just as she's shuttered medical-marijuana dispensaries.
Behind the scenes, the San Diego chapter of Americans for Safe Access (a medical-cannabis advocacy group) and Canvass for a Cause (a progressive LGBT organization) were executing a conspiracy hatched with the Yes Men during a parallel workshop at Agitprop, a North Park art gallery.
Here's how the prank within a prank within a prank went down: The groups registered two fake Department of Justice domains using the federal courthouse's physical address. One fake DOJ account sent an official-looking press release on behalf of Duffy, followed shortly by a second email sent by another bogus Duffy domain denying the first email. Then a made-up Tea Party-type group, "Federal Accountability Coalition," took credit for the prank.
The hoax was supposed to involve only fake press releases, a fake website and cell phones answered by imposters. But when Duffy announced her own press conference, ASA organizer Eugene Davidovich says they junked the plan and reconvened with the Yes Men via Skype. Ultimately, they crashed Duffy's briefing, and then staged their own press conference with the final reveal.
The media have since focused on the museum's involvement in the hoax. Although SDMA denies knowledge of the details, the fact remains that the museum had offered ASA members complimentary admission to the salon event. Several days earlier, ASA telegraphed the punch in an email to its newsletter subscribers announcing the Yes Men collaboration.
UCSD professor and artist/activist Ricardo Dominguez says SDMA shouldn't be so quick to distance itself.
"The [museum] should be commended for seeking to present the art of the now with the art of the past— that is the only way the art of the future can be created," Dominguez writes in an email. "Art is always dangerous to somebody somewhere . As for the gesture itself, I found it funny and perhaps all too true that the nature of current U.S. and S.D. drug policies have little to no concern about the mass abuse of so called legal drugs."