An exhibit titled “The Bureau of Arts & Culture” presents 21 ideas — some preposterous, some easily doable — to make Seattle a better city.
“More and more,” said artist Greg Lundgren, “I think of Seattle as a sovereign nation-state. Especially given what just happened in the federal election.”
He was standing in a leather jacket, arms folded against the cold, on the spacious but chilly third floor of King Street Station looking at “EMP (Exercise Municipal Power)” — a massive drawing on a gallery wall of what the Frank Gehry-designed Experience Music Project (recently renamed the Museum of Pop Culture) would look like if it were converted into a massive gym where people could walk on treadmills or ride stationary bikes to generate power that would reduce the city’s dependence on the typical electrical grid.
“Other cities look to us for things — gay marriage, legal pot, police reform, sanctuary for immigrants,” Lundgren said. “So what if we tried to become more energy-independent? Would other cities follow our lead?”
‘The Bureau of Arts & Culture’
Opening 6-10 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1; 12-6 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays through Dec. 18 at King Street Station, 303 S. Jackson St., Seattle; free (on Facebook at The Bureau of Arts & Culture).
Exercise Municipal Power is one of 21 proposals in “The Bureau of Arts & Culture,” a civic-minded, concept-art exhibit from the impish art collective PDL, which features a rotating cast of characters including Arne Pihl and Jason Puccinelli (“P”), Jed Dunkerley (“D”) and Lundgren (“L”).
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Inspired by the Century 21 Exhibition during Seattle’s 1962 World’s Fair (hence the 21 pieces), “Bureau” presents new ways of thinking about the city.
“Century 21 was about ambition, Seattle being the city of the future, enthusiasm, excitement,” Lundgren said. “Fast-forward 55 years and that enthusiasm is lost. Now people look at the future with concern — they can’t afford to live here, gentrification, the tech takeover. We all know Seattle has a lot of things we don’t want to have happen. So what do we want?”
Lundgren said he hopes “Bureau” will “help people dream big dreams.”
PDL’s idea for “Bureau” bubbled up a year ago as a part-playful/part-serious concept: 21 projects proposed by Seattle’s “Bureau of Arts & Culture,” a fictitious analog for Seattle’s real-life Office of Arts and Culture. The exhibit will include wall-sized sketches of some of those ideas, and scale models, prototypes and text of others — plus, for one night, a functional blood bank where people can trade their fluids for art. (More about that later.)
The exhibit, Lundgren said during an impromptu tour of the half-finished project, is PDL’s polite way of throwing down a gauntlet and asking city arts administrators to think big — not just about art, but how art intersects with civic life.
And, after the exhibit closes, the city’s actual Office of Arts and Culture will move into the roomy, raw third floor of King Street Station.
What, “Bureau” asks, will city arts administrators do next?
Some of the proposed projects are elegantly awesome (a 250-foot-tall downtown “vivarium” to house a Douglas fir that will grow from sapling to arboreal tower), some are logistically outrageous (an enormous “sky chimney” that breaks through the cloud barrier so it’s always sunny in at least one spot in Seattle) and some are tantalizingly just out of reach (a “Harbor Island Biennale” that would invite countries around the world to devote one container on a cargo ship to its nation’s art, to be displayed together once every two years on the Duwamish River).
And some are ideas we should’ve already put into action.
“This is the one that will probably get the most attention,” Lundgren said, stopping in front of the partially finished “Give Gallery,” where visitors will literally trade blood for art.
The concept is simple. A few hundred artists throughout the city (many of them big names like Ellen Forney, Jeffry Mitchell, Mary Ann Peters and Charles Peterson) will donate works that are high quality but have yet to be purchased. On opening night, visitors can donate blood on-site for an “art voucher” they can trade for any one artwork they see in the “Give Gallery.” (For the rest of the show, people can donate directly to Bloodworks Northwest and still get a voucher.)
The idea is that similar schemes can be used by other organizations such as soup kitchens, homeless shelters, immigrant-advocacy services. Give something — time, money, blood — get an art voucher, and go to a gallery where you can pick something you like.
“We want to provide an incentive to fill the gap in social services,” Lundgren said. “And I’m sure there are artists who will say, ‘Somebody is willing to trade their blood for my work? That is awesome!’ ”
Other “Bureau” projects address art education (a high-class commercial gallery for contemporary children’s art), handgun violence (a prototype of a sculpture that could house an internal smelter that will melt firearms and mold them into either brass knuckles or a sex toy, depending on which button you hit). One of Lundgren’s other favorites is the “Shelter Sculpture” proposal: City-commissioned public sculptures should double as single-occupancy homeless shelters. He walked over to a boxy, abstract sculpture he was building on the gallery floor and pointed to one of its jutting shelves. “Maybe you want to look up in there,” he said. The underside revealed a secret portal to another world: a single bed, a chair, a table, storage space.
Lundgren has forged a career out of thinking about where the rubber meets the road when it comes to art and life. He’s the founder of Lundgren Monuments (which makes translucent, cast-glass headstones you can find in cemeteries from Seattle to Japan) and co-owns The Hideout, an art gallery disguised as a bar on First Hill. He’s a devotee of Marcel Duchamp and Buckminster Fuller.He’s an artist, an entrepreneur and an impresario — exactly the kind of cultural ambassador who advertised Paris as an art town in the 1920s and New York as the cultural capital of the 1950s and ’60s.
Seattle, he said, “has that potential” — despite, or perhaps because of, the civic convulsions we’ve been facing, from minimum-wage fights to skyrocketing rents.
Some people, he said, will write off the projects in “Bureau” as absurd, but he hopes they’ll incite discussions along the lines of: “‘That’s a stupid idea, but you know what would be cool? This other idea!’ ”
The final station is a conversation zone where people can critique what they’ve seen and make other proposals. (Lundgren is pretty sure that some of the ideas, like a brothel staffed by robots and converting the Woodland Park Zoo into an opt-in alternative to prison, will draw fire.)
President-elect Donald Trump, Lundgren said, lends “Bureau” an unintended urgency.
Lundgren mentioned former Mayor Mike McGinn’s recent article in Crosscut about Trump’s threats to shut off federal funding to cities that buck his agenda. With Seattle’s mayor, police chief and others pledging to protect Seattle’s more liberal policies — protection of LGBTQ rights, police officers declining to ask people about their immigration status for the sole purpose of deportation — the city may need to do more for itself.
“In moments like these, artists can pick up the slack,” Lundgren said, nodding toward the blood-donation gallery.
“They want to.”