On Wednesday I went to the Seattle Art Museum. I felt I had no excuse not to go, as we were staying literally across the street from it. It was a pretty nice place, smallish and not nearly as overwhelming as somewhere like the Met. Ironically (maybe), in the four days I was in Seattle, the SAM was having their "Kurt" exhibit, in which various visual (and, in some cases, performance) artists showed work inspired by late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. I know, I know. Seattle. I know, I know. Grunge. I get it. In all honesty, I didn't really want to see it. Something about our culture's morbid, erotically-charged fascination with the downward spiral and premature death of pretty, young famous people is kind of sickening to me. But still, I'm part of that culture, and I can't say that I am completely immune to the glamor of the live-fast-die-young phenomenon. So, after taking a respectable amount of time looking at everything else, I went up to see Kurt.
It was, in a word, weird. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was playing, cut with some other songs (including the Neil Young song Cobain apparently quoted in his suicide note), and there were some grainy photos of Kurt writhing around on stage in a lot of baggy flannel, and everywhere were signs saying PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH and a lot of cold, white lighting. I couldn't help but feel a little bad. As self-aware as the exhibit attempted to be, it was the same old sensationalist stuff you can find on any newsstand anywhere. There was one mention of the weird eroticism found in stories like Cobain's in one of the sort of overview plaques written by the museum staff. The image they mentioned, however, was actually a staged photograph of a naked woman in a motel room, meant to evoke a groupie. Um, what? What does that have to do with Kurt Cobain, exactly? There was also, much to my dismay, no mention of the fact that Cobain had a family. There was no mention of Courtney Love, his widow, or their daughter, Frances. Which miffed me quite a lot. Pretty much because I like Courtney Love and Hole better than I like Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. There. I said it. You may commence stoning me now. All around, even though the Kurt show claimed to be an examination of the nature of the fascination with celebrity and celebrity meltdown, and a study of Kurt the man and artist, it seemed to me like more of the same voyeurism, the same callous glamorization of a sad person who tragically did not get the help he needed, and eventually did a selfish and cowardly thing.
So I've posted pictures of the stuff I actually did like. Unfortunately, I have also completely forgotten all of the artists' names. I wasn't planning on a blog post when I took the pictures, so I didn't bother to write anything down. It's pretty much just stuff I liked. I realize now that, with the exception of the big mouse, I liked clothing. Apologies for the poor photos--they don't allow flashes in museums. Anyway, from the bottom up:
The sweater-and-hair suit-person was cute. Or anyway, I thought so. There was a brightly-colored one with a big columnar head/neck as well, but I liked the brown one. Both were approximately human size. The bristly gold wire suit was supposed to be evocative of conquistadors and caterpillars. There was a silver companion, and both were about 2-2.5 feet tall. The array of costumes are from an African (I forget the country. Sorry) festival and these seated ones are representative of the very participatory audience. There was one "father" figure whom no one at the festival is supposed to talk to, since he is too wise and such, so I didn't take a picture of him (though part of him is showing in the far right). The awesome metal coat is made entirely of dog tags stamped with nonsense words. And that above it is a REALLY BIG MOUSE.
I also got to see the museum's sculpture garden on Tuesday, which is not part of the museum complex proper but farther away down the road. It's quite nice, with neon orange chairs instead of regular benches. (This was also the day Obama was in town, and some private plane flew into the no-fly zone. About four minutes and several sonic booms later, the plane was escorted out by two F15s that came up from Portland. LOUD.) Seattle being a weird and layered sort of city, the garden was spread out over a highway. The runaway eraser (top, Claes Oldenburg, because who else) is situated on the embankment, as if it is about to roll into traffic.
So, Kurt-deification aside, I'd recommend the SAM and its satellites. It's manageable and easy to navigate, and seems to have a good selection of art. It's nowhere near as extensive (or exhaustive) as something like the Met, which is just as well for the strolling tourist. The Met makes me tired; the SAM didn't. And sometimes that's all I ask for in a museum.