Greg Lundgren leaves the garage door up at his Ballard studio, and the sun rushes in on him and his headstones. The July issue of International Cemetery and Funeral Management magazine sits on his turned-on light-table, and he only has time to talk until a van arrives with a round slab of glass that he will need to etch with a giant butterfly in memory of a 72-year-old Ohio woman named Butchie.
Lundgren is a crusader with a new book out called The Vital 5 Cookbook, and it is not a total stretch to picture him telling the nation about his book on Oprah. That's in keeping: The way you'd have to disregard federal law to build the bombs from the protest-inspired The Anarchist Cookbook of 1970, you'd have to break some basic rules of the highbrow art world to complete Lundgren's recipes. Over a decade as an art activist, Lundgren has already staged or participated in at least a dozen of his 75 recipes.
"Dogs of Medina," #27, lured 25 wealthy dog owners to a gallery opening to see paintings of their own dogs, photographed stealthily on the street. "For a moment it made everyone smile, and wonder what the hell they were doing, and that is as much as we ever ask for," Lundgren wrote afterward.
Lundgren's book—a veritable monument covered in bold red fabric that's actually soft to the touch—is, in one sense, like the catalog for a museum retrospective. For a decade, Lundgren, operating under the name Vital 5 Productions (he won a Stranger Genius award in 2003), has been a fixture in the city, and art people can recount his escapades like sports fans remember great games that mattered more for what happened than who won. The conventions of art prevail, but every point Lundgren scores against them is worth watching.
But he intends the book as an introduction, not a valediction. He says he'd rather not sell a single copy than see them all go to believers. This is a mission, and he's out for converts. "My ideal audience is people who think they have no business being creative—suburban housewives, repressed 22-year-old computer programmers. It's like being an aerobics instructor: Do you want a bunch of Olympic athletes in your class or do you want the heifers?"
Recipe #19: regular reenactments by today's moral codes of the Nazi Degenerate Art Exhibit of the 1930s, which dictated what not to do and be in Nazi society. But another proposal Lundgren brings up in conversation would carry out the art world's version of degenerate work: If the Guggenheim Museum in New York handed him the reins tomorrow, he says he'd put up a show by the Christian mall artist Thomas Kinkade and the dolphin painter (and Fabio look-alike) Christian Lassen.
It's not that he likes their work. He just wants to see what would happen if the Guggenheim were breached by hordes of the painters' fans. Whatever the accepted wisdom about art and art appreciation, whatever is segregated or exclusive about the machinery of art—"That's the world I'm going to spend the work of my life trying to break down," Lundgren says. "I want to destroy that world."
His ideas can be adolescent (what would Oprah make of #24, the marble-up-your-butt party?), but he draws the not-so-distant connection between what he's doing and Marcel Duchamp's revolutionary pranks. Unlike Duchamp, the 36-year-old Bellevue native speaks in openly utopian tones. His Artists for a Work-Free America calls for total workforce automation, so humans can get back to artistic expression. His Arbitrary Art Grants have involved handing out $500 at random during public happenings. It's not all bumper-sticker-worthy fun—#25 is "White Man Slave Auction." (Call me if you can bring yourself to do that one.)
His night job is running the Hideout, which some people call a bar, but which he calls "a five-year performance-art installation with a full bar" that, according to his website, will sunset November 31, 2010. His day job is a business he launched less than two years ago, Lundgren Monuments, which aims to revolutionize the cemetery industry—just in time for the boomer death wave—with personalized cast-glass headstones as thick as granite. Even in this he has to fight, to prove to skeptical cemetery directors that his glowing, bubbly glass is durable. He has sales reps from Chicago to Tokyo and he does three headstones a week, but he's still waiting for his first locally installed monument. Not only does he want to give people a chance to express themselves in death, he wants to free cemeteries from their generic 20th-century tendencies and return to them their 19th-century status as sculpture gardens.
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