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Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses

The world's most extensive exhibition of memorabilia celebrating the music and history of Seattle grunge luminaries, Nirvana.

  1. In February 1993 Nirvana began recording the album In Utero, the cover of which featured the drawing of a transparent anatomical female mannequin with wings. Debuting on September 13, the album entered the Billboard charts at number one, led by the single “Heart-Shaped Box.” The symbol of the winged “angel” became a pervasive stage element when the band toured the US from October 1993 to January 1994 with shows featuring two of the life-sized stage prop angels.

    Pictured: Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses gallery.

    Photo by Christopher Nelson.

  2. Three unique kiosks house touch tables that cover a whopping 45 different topics each, and include interviews with key figures to bring to life different nationwide music scenes, the flavor of different clubs, and the histories of the bands that raised the roof. Using video-based narratives and slideshows, each touch table allows visitors to take off on a rock 'n' roll tour of their own device.

    Pictured: Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses.

    Photo by Christopher Nelson.

  3. Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Dale Crover drove from Aberdeen to Seattle to record their first professional demo tape with recording engineer Jack Endino at Reciprocal Studios in 1988. After recording 10 songs, they drove down to the Community World Theater and played a show of the same songs that evening.

    Pictured: Nirvana's first demo recording, hand-lettered by Jack Endino, January 23, 1988. EMP Museum permanent collection.

    Photo by Lance Mercer.

  4. Responsible for some of the most iconic images of the Seattle scene from the late 1980s and early 90s, Charles Peterson captured bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, and Pearl Jam before they broke into the big time, to create and document the trajectory of the Pacific Northwest music scene. His imagery spread throughout the globe as Sub Pop's profile increased, creating a brand that sold records, defined the look of Sub Pop, and formed a distinct visual mythology for the region.

    Kurt Cobain at the Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, B.C., March 8, 1991.

    Photograph courtesy of Charles Peterson.

  5. In 1991 Nirvana traveled to Sound City Studios in California, to record what would become their breakthrough album Nevermind. The song "Endless, Nameless," was supposed to follow "Something in the Way," but was accidentally left off during initial pressings of the album. Cobain complained to engineer Howie Weinberg who added about ten minutes of silence before the start of the hidden track on future pressings.

    Pictured: Remnants of black Fender Stratocaster smashed by Cobain during the recording of "Endless, Nameless" at the 1991 sessions.

    Photo by Lance Mercer.

In late 1991, Nirvana exploded on the national music scene, transforming Seattle and the Pacific Northwest from a faraway backwater to the epicenter of popular music culture. Nirvana's infectious single, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," saturated the airwaves and MTV, sparking a worldwide grunge revolution, extinguishing the rule of hair metal, and giving birth to alternative rock.

Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses explores the public and personal story of a single band, but it also invites visitors to discover the underground music scene in which Nirvana developed. Featuring more than 150 iconic instruments, original poster artwork, photographs, albums, films of performance footage, and 100 new and archived oral histories from key figures in the independent music scene (including Nirvana band members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic), the exhibit introduces the world's most extensive exhibition of memorabilia celebrating the music and history of Seattle grunge luminaries, Nirvana. Three interactive kiosks allow visitors to access a plethora of topics that range from the macroscopic (different national music scenes), to the microscopic (specific clubs, bands, and events).

“Nirvana’s Gen X image belied the typical rock star stance—they wore regular clothes gave props to other underground bands, and stuck up for the freaks, geeks, and outcasts everywhere. Instead of creating a barrier between the fans and themselves, they indicated by their affect and actions that they ultimately were one of us.”
EMP Senior Curator and author of the exhibit companion book Taking Punk to the Masses: From Nowhere to Nevermind.

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Office of Arts & Culture Seattle

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