Earlier this week I attended a media preview of Seattle Art
Museum’s “Kurt” exhibit which focuses on the impact Kurt Cobain’s
life had on the lives of others. Below is my unedited take on the
exhibit that I wrote for Crosscut.
During “Modern Art,” a song by British rock group Art Brut, Eddie Argos exclaims “Modern art makes me want to rock out.” That statement more or less sums up how I felt after spending nearly two hours viewing Seattle Art Musuem’s “Kurt,” an exhibit that celebrates Kurt Cobain’s worldwide influence on the world of pop culture and art.
Curated by Michael Darling, who will be leaving SAM in July to be the chief curator at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, “Kurt” perfectly bridges the worlds of pop culture, music and art. This is an exhibit not just for fans of fine art. Anyone who has been touched by Nirvana’s music can find something to appreciate here. The installation, which opens today and can be seen until Sept. 6, features nearly 80 works of various mediums ranging from sculptures to paintings to photographs and more, each expressing different aspects of Cobain’s life and how he impacted the lives of others.
“Kurt” isn’t a collection of memorabilia like you might find at the Experience Music Project, (which will have its own Nirvana exhibit in 2011) and it isn’t a display of Cobain’s own artwork. “Kurt” is an exhibit that takes a very public and tragic figure and humanizes him in a way his own music never could and like all good art, almost every piece on display makes you think.
The danger and tragedy of Cobain’s life is represented throughout “Kurt” with two of the more effective pieces being Jordan Kantor’s 2006 painting “Untitled (Forensic Scene)” and Banks Violette’s “Dead Star Memorial Structure (on their hands at last)” from 2003. The former is an oil painting that harkens memories of the infamous photos of Cobain’s dead body inside the greenhouse where he killed himself. The latter is what looks like a devastated drum kit dipped in black tar. Pieces of the kit are deconstructed and strewn across a platform and pointy stalagmites poke through the floor. It conjures feelings of darkness, volatility and despair, all of which can be heard in Nirvana’s music.
There is also a remarkable audio collage that attempts to loosely tie Cobain’s death to the loss of innocence in the 1960s. The work by Sam Durant is part of a larger piece that includes graphite portraits of Cobain, Robert Smithson and others. Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black),” part which Cobain quoted in his suicide note (“It’s better to burn out than to fade away”), plays from one pair of speakers while “Gimme Shelter” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” play from two other pairs. The speakers are connected to stereos underneath a replica of Smithson’s “Partially Buried Woodshed,” which he built after the Kent State massacre. Initially it is a bit jarring to hear the three songs played simultaneously but once your ears adjust your mind makes the connection between the songs and their separate meanings to different generations it all comes together quite nicely. Continue reading