Artist's provocative homage to JFK

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Jorg Dubin wasn't interested in just sitting in the back of an open-top car and waving to the crowd in the Patriots Day Parade.

Dubin, the Laguna Beach artist who made the9/11memorial sculpture in Heisler Park, was among a handful honored in Saturday's parade. But the parade's Artist of the Year wanted to do something different as he rode in the No. 19 slot behind the Assistance League and Assisteens Auxiliary procession ahead of the Sawdust Art Festival float.

"I wanted to create something," Dubin said.

That he did.

While bystanders largely greeted him with applause and laughter near the parade's kickoff point at Laguna Beach High School, his appearance raised some eyebrows.

Dubin appeared at the wheel of his 1962 Cadillac convertible with a carload of passengers that resembled principal characters from the presidential motorcade on the day ofJohn F. Kennedy's assassination in Dallas in November 1963.

Seated in the front were a man and woman posing as then-TexasGov. John Connallyand his wife, Nellie, and sitting in the back was a man who, from a distance, bore a likeness to JFK. The real Connally was shot and injured that day as he rode in a front seat of the presidential limousine, which had its top down.

And, flanking the moving convertible, were stoned-faced people in suits and on foot who had a wire coiling out of one ear. These were the "Secret Service agents."

There even was a man running with a camera, who was playing a Dallas news photographer.

Yet something about this picture was out of place.

Yes, a Jackie Kennedy was riding in the back and wearing one of those pillbox hats that were fashionable in the early 1960s. But, in this instance, there were two Jackies, and neither of them was dressed in the pink outfit associated with that day more than 48 years ago when the real Mrs. Kennedy became a widow.

Two women, who were sitting on either side of "JFK," were supposed to be impersonating the former first lady, Dubin said.

In a phone interview and in emails, the artist acknowledged that he was evoking the memory of the nation's slain commander-in-chief, but stressed in no way was he trying to reenact the JFK assassination.

"The concept came about while speaking with an artist friend of mine...," he detailed in an email. "I wanted to have some fun both visually and in a performance kind of way. I also placed myself in a very discrete role: that of the driver.

"As I am fairly well-known in Laguna, I wanted to take the attention away from myself and do something that would confuse some and also amuse people. The whole project was a performance intended to be campy and fun."

As he described it, there was a second part to his appearance that had a darker edge.

"On a more serious note, the visual was a metaphor for how our political leaders have become such targets for very vitriolic discourse in our political system to the point of hatred that can potentially lead to the horrible act that transpired in Dallas in 1963," he wrote.

Organizers of the parade said they weren't aware of Dubin's plan for mobile performance art.

Charles Quilter, vice president of this year's parade, said he was busy providing commentary for a televised broadcast of the parade and that the only image he could see from his vantage point at the Laguna firehouse was on a small, black-and-white monitor.

While the parade's bylaws prohibit entrants from making political or religious statements, "I don't think that we would have made any objection [to Dubin's entry]," Quilter said.

He noted this was to be expected, given the context of Laguna Beach as a town populated by artists, including ones like Dubin, who are known for being provocative.

"A measure of an artist is to provoke and stimulate visually," Quilter said. "It would be difficult to draw a political inference from his entry."

His wife agreed.

For her part, Ann Quilter said that Dubin's entry made her uncomfortable at first by evoking a painful memory, but she was not offended. He wasn't reenacting the JFK assassination because there were different elements to his display, she said, such as the two Jackies.

Back in November '63, the future Mrs. Quilter was an 18-year-old high school student in Arlington, Va. She said she was in the crowd inWashington, D.C.when the presidential caisson and funerary procession passed by days after the shooting.

"It took us awhile to figure out what it was," she said, recalling Dubin's appearance in the parade. "At first you might have thought: Is this the Kennedy assassination? .... It just made you stop and think. That's what art does."

imran.vittachi@latimes.com

Twitter: @ImranVittachi

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