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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 21, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 21
Kurt & Warhol exhibits are thought-provoking at SAM
Arts & Entertainment
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Kurt & Warhol exhibits are thought-provoking at SAM

by James Whitely - SGN Staff Writer

'Kurt' and
'love fear pleasure lust
pain glamour death -
Andy Warhol Media Works'
Seattle Art Museum
Through September 6


On May 13, the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) opened "Kurt" and "love fear pleasure lust pain glamour death - Andy Warhol Media Works" to the public. The two new SAM exhibitions run from May 13 to September 6. Both exhibits focus on two figures in recent U.S. history that sparked massive cultural movements, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana and Andy Warhol.

With works that range from the 1960s to the 1980s, "love fear pleasure lust pain glamour death" was absolutely exhilarating, but as a fan, the childish joy I felt may not quite compare to what you'll take from this exhibit.

Beginning with photo booth portraits of Warhol himself, Edie Sedgwick, Holly Solomon, Richard Rheem, and various other Factory superstars in the first room, the exhibit changes mediums for the second and third rooms' famous 16mm three-minute screen tests. In addition to a participatory-based surprise which I won't reveal, the last segment of the exhibit features photos of Warhol in drag, various unnamed drag queens, Warhol's photos of Truman Capote, as well as many other self-portraits that portray many different takes on the artist's own identity.

"love fear pleasure lust pain glamour death" feels like an intimate look into the life and mind of one of the most celebrated American artists of all time. The screen tests of Edie, Lou Reed, and Gino Piserchio left me breathless with excitement. No doubt you'll have your own favorites, too.

The exhibit is a veritable wonderland for any fan of Warhol (like me), and an excellent look into Warhol's fascination and aptitude towards portraiture that touches on fame, desire, and identity construction and experimentation.

Although Warhol was the highlight for me, there are certainly some very thought-provoking works in "Kurt," particularly a series of three photographs by Alice Wheeler, local photographer and friend of Cobain, of three different boys in Kurt T-shirts. The series, taken over 13 years, resonates the power of the musician's legacy after death.

"Kurt" features paintings, sculptures, video, and photography of, and inspired by, Kurt Cobain. Through these mediums, the exhibit strives to explore feelings of freedom, longing, loss, desire, and confusion.

"Kurt" isn't just a celebration of grunge - which the exhibit sees as Seattle's biggest cultural export of the past 20 years - with Kurt Cobain being the central figure. What it strives to pass onto the viewer is how, more than 15 years after his death, Cobain's music and image continues to impact not just youth and artists, but the collective consciousness of an entire generation.

There are few people in recent history as far-reaching and identifiable to youth as Cobain, an honor the iconic Nirvana frontman never asked for and never wanted. For many, Kurt Cobain was the personification of the ideals, aspirations and disappointments of the 1990s.

The beginning of the exhibit features pieces immediately reminiscent of and related to Cobain, but the exhibit quickly moves towards pieces that demonstrate what SAM calls "subtle assimilation of Cobain's ethos and idealism," which really become far too abstract for most viewers. An example of which are two photographs displayed side by side of a motel room Nirvana had stayed in, one of which displays the empty room, the other displaying the silhouette of the artist standing naked in the window.

All in all, "Kurt" spans a wide range of mediums and interpretations of the artist that become a little too vague and too abstract to really be relevant to the theme for an average museumgoer - for a die-hard Nirvana fan, however, this may not be the case. Yet most of the pieces, relevant or not, are worth seeing for their individual value.

The two exhibits work very well together. Don't miss them.

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