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Nirvana’s platinum record for the album Bleach is so shiny you can almost see your reflection in it. Normally, that platinum record lives at the Sub Pop Records’ Seattle headquarters. But right now, it’s here in Bozeman, part of an exhibit alongside posters, skateboard decks and magazines in Haynes Hall at Montana State University.

You’re probably familiar with Sub Pop, even if the name doesn’t ring a bell. The Seattle-based record label is who you can thank for the explosion of grunge in the 1990s, most famous for signing artists like Nirvana, Sleater-Kinney, Mudhoney and TAD. The label, SCS Wraps and MSU’s School of Art collaborated on an exhibit that will be in the Helen E. Copeland gallery until the end of the month, full of archived media from the label that grew grunge from an underground genre to a movement.

“Grunge was the last major musical movement in the United States before the internet,” said art professor Jeffrey Conger.

Conger and Jeff Kleinsmith, the vice president of Sub Pop’s creative department, are two of the brains behind the exhibit. The two have known each other for years, said Conger, and are excited to bring the display to the public.

“For those that grew up with grunge as the soundtrack for their life, this is a must-see exhibit,” said Conger. He counts himself as one of those folks — he said his favorite grunge show was a 10 Minute Warning show in the basement of a condemned house in Seattle. “It’s accessible to all that love music, popular culture, and those that have a bold idea.”

Sub Pop began as a fanzine, a do-it-yourself tiny magazine called “Subterranean Pop” created by Bruce Pavitt while he was a student at Evergreen State College. After graduating, Pavitt moved to Seattle and began writing a column called “Sub Pop USA” for a popular monthly music magazine called The Rocket. Jonathan Poneman, a DJ at the University of Washington’s college radio station, asked Pavitt to come on his show, according to a 2018 KEXP interview with the two. Their friendship grew into releasing records and putting on shows with the help of The Rocket’s art department.

This was the early 90s, when bands didn’t have social media to get people to shows — the success of the band rode entirely on radio and print exposure and the physical media it put out, zines and cassettes and t-shirts and everything in-between. A lot of that physical media ended up in archives at the Sub Pop headquarters in Seattle, scattered in drawers and boxes that were passed on to Kleinsmith when he started at Sub Pop in 1994.

“I feel like the stuff should be seen up close,” said Kleinsmith. “It’s stuff that was designed to be held and used, to print, to be shot, to be used in album covers.”

The exhibit includes all sorts of tools that were used in the creation of physical media, something that’s still done but is much less common and, as Conger says, generally ends up being viewed on a screen anyway.

“The show is meant to be tactile, to be physical,” said Conger. “The look and feel of these objects were paramount to the success of the recording artist.”

Conger said the exhibit has a dual purpose. One is to bring exciting artwork to Bozeman, but the other is to show MSU art students that the creative processes they’re learning were and are still used.

Kleinsmith and Sasha Barr, Sub Pop’s senior art director, will be presenting a free public lecture on Jan. 30 at 6:00 p.m. in Norm Asbjornson Hall, with an artist reception and Sub Pop pop-up shop in the Helen E. Copeland gallery afterward. Kleinsmith said that will be a lot of stories — including why there’s a gold record hanging in the bathroom of Seattle Sub Pop office — and diving into different pieces of Sub Pop’s history and Seattle’s underground music scene.

“Our talk is going to be very motivated through art,” said Kleinsmith. “In a nutshell, it’s a look at old Sub Pop art and how that is moving into the future.”

The Sub Pop exhibit is free and open to the public weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Jan. 31 in the Helen E. Copeland Gallery on the second floor of Haynes Hall.

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Melissa Loveridge can be reached at or at (406) 582-2651.