Nirvana: 20 Years After

Nirvana: 20 Years After

Curator Q&A — Two decades after Kurt Cobain's death a new photography exhibition digs deep into the Nirvana story.

When Maurizio Guidoni and his co-curators were trying to find a way to pay tribute to the twentieth anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death, they knew they wanted to do something that would go beyond the superficial. Rather than searching for illusive barely-seen Nirvana images, they decided to bring together three photographers who documented the band’s dramatic trajectory but also helped reveal the context in which they emerged. Through the work of Charles Peterson (Sub Pop’s official photographer), Kevin Mazur and Kirk Weddle, viewers will be able to better understand the Seattle music scene and the wider cultural landscape that helped produce the era-defining grunge band.

The exhibition is on display now at Malaga’s La Térmica gallery and is curated by ONO Arte, an arts organisation from Bologna, Italy. We spoke to Maurizio Guidoni, who worked on the exhibition with co-curators Vittoria Mainoldi and Beatrice Piantanida, for the lowdown.

How did the Nirvana: 20 Years After show come about?
As curators we do focus on music, cinema, fashion and in general on the icons that influenced popular culture from the 50’s to the late 90’s. An exhibition about Nirvana was simply something we had to do.

What is the story of the exhibition? Was there a narrative tying all the artists together?
When we decided to work on Nirvana our main goal was not just to show the members of the band as the superstars they were, but also as fine musicians and artists that came form a specific background, the Seattle music scene. That’s why we included many important groups from that scene in the exhibition. For sure, Nirvana had the amazing capacity of bringing punk rock and hard rock music to the masses due to their more pop-like sound but they always kept in mind were they came form. They were really good friends with almost every band in that area!

Can you describe some of your favourite pieces from the show?
There are two pieces I like the most. Firstly, Kirk Weddle’s shot of the band and their instruments in the pool. It has a freshness and a feeling of freedom typical of a band that hadn’t yet reached number one worldwide. They look like they are having real fun. Plus the colours and the shot are great. Shooting underwater was no piece of cake in 1991!

My other favourite is the one of Kurt Cobain doing a backflip on stage, taken by Charles Peterson in Toronto, Canada in 1990. It’s another picture in which you can see both Kurt and the band at a time when they both still had fun on stage. After worldwide fame arrived, Kurt slowly became bored with all the media attention and the live shows become less and less strong or performative. Also, in this picture you can fully appreciate the talent of Peterson: he was the Sub Pop official photographer and that means that he was the grunge music scene’s official photographer with unique access to the stages where he captured moments like this.

What were the challenges in presenting the work of three different photographers together?
The main body of the exhibition is from Charles Peterson’s archive. Kirk Weddle and Kavin Mazur’s work document really specific moments (shooting the Nevermind cover, and the relationship between Kurt, his family and the press after he became a star) which were missing from Peterson’s narration of events. They are colourful in comparison to the rough black and white of Peterson’s pictures but we do not feel they clash in any way. They represent different moments in the history of the band and including them all helped us to show the growth and change of Nirvana over such a small period of time.

What do you hope viewers took away from the exhibition?
We hope that the audience will be able to better understand the social and cultural history behind the pictures. Rather than attempting to excite fans with almost-never-before-seen pictures of their heroes, we would like them to feel the importance of each moment and realise that it goes even deeper than just music or youth culture.

Do you plan to take the show on the road? Do you have another exhibition in the pipeline?
Sure, the show will stay in Spain until the Summer and than we’re planning to go to Genoa in Italy, France and Germany. We have many more exhibitions that we’re now working on, but I can’t tell you any more than that. You’ll have to follow us at Ono Arte and Contemporánea.

Check out Nirvana: 20 Years at La Térmica gallery, Malaga until July 25.