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Gone Too Soon, MoPOP’s latest Guest Curator Exhibition

In Gone Too Soon, the fourth edition of MoPOP’s Guest Curator Program, Guest Curator Nabilah Ahmed examines the lives and deaths of beloved creatives, using artifacts and clothing from The Notorious B.I.G., Robin Williams, Kurt Cobain, and others to explore the question: How do we honor legendary figures with complex lives we weren’t actually a part of?

Now in its third year, MoPOP’s Guest Curator Program highlights the voices and interests of emerging curators, offering hands-on experience in exhibition development while showcasing valuable new interpretations of MoPOP’s permanent and oral history collections. Explore the exhibition when it opens at MoPOP alongside Massive: The Power of Pop Culture on March 16! Want to be our next Guest Curator? Applications are open until March 29th.

GONE TOO SOON really started years ago. 

During my time at MoPOP in 2019, I did a deep dive into Nirvana for an education program. After about three weeks of devouring all the archival content available, it dawned on me that I hadn’t listened to a single song of theirs since I began.

I had become immersed in the lives behind Nirvana’s music, in the Aberdeen stoop that made up their punk scene, their memories of getting egged by jocks, that time they got kicked out of their own album listening party for starting a food fight (RIP, ReBar). They were legends, but through these stories I almost felt like they were my friends too.

Over time, I found my interest becoming more and more focused on artists who were subsumed by their work cases where the lines between artist and human became blurred. Lil Peep, Sid Vicious, and (not at all an endorsement) Ye, to name a few. Stories frequently accompanied by narratives of consumption, isolation, or tragedy.

But how much is myth-making—a complex story shoehorned into an Icarus trope? What right do I have to feel close to these people? Is my compassion just short-sighted entitlement or morbid fascination? Am I projecting? And yet, the grief feels as personal as if I knew them in real life.

I believe that all humans innately make art of themselves in the ways they dress, speak, emote, and move. The aesthetic isn’t superficial. It is revealing, intimate, and relational. So in exploring themes of relationship, human complexity, grief, and icon, it felt natural to curate GONE TOO SOON as a costume exhibit.

Clothes on a dress form are only an approximation of a person’s presence, but these selections pack a punch (I made sure of it). I hope visitors leave with a respect and care for our heroes that extends to our friends, our relatives, and ourselves. After all, we have tragedies too. 

Learn more about MoPOP’s Guest Curator Program

Gone Too Soon Exhibition

Apply to become MoPOP’s next Guest Curator

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Guest Curator Program

About the author

Nabilah Ahmed is a Museum Educator at MoPOP.