Bumbershoot Visual Arts, Part III

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The movie I'd seen before, and the poster seemed strangely familiar. That film is 1963's Elvis vehicle It Happened at the World's Fair, shot partly here at the fair the prior year. It's not a very good movie, like most Elvis flicks, but it includes fair scenes, the Space Needle (where Elvis takes a date), and some out of town scenes that highlight the Pacific Northwest. Thus the Elvistravaganza! exhibit at the Seattle Center Pavilion (next to the skate park), which features dozens of Elvis portraits and related ephemera. Some of icons and photos are well familiar, some are special creations by local artists, and there are Elvis lounges and a karaoke station, too. And outside the entrance is a new poster by an artist whose work looked awfully familiar...

Now retired, our cartoon columnist Uptight Seattleite was an invaluable part of Seattle Weekly, owing mainly to his smug, judgmental voice (thanks to David Stoesz), but also given personality by the illustrations of Rod Filbrandt. And it is Filbrandt who created a special poster for Elvistravaganza! organizers Marlow Harris and JoDavid. I like the update, as Elvis proudly wears his gold Century 21 jacket and makes sweet love to the Space Needle. The poster has a clean retro vibe that would've made it a good cover for our Bumbershoot issue this week.

Still, the whole Elvistravaganza! is so kitschy and retrograde that it's at odds with the theme of the fair it partly celebrates. Elvis is an icon of the past, not the glorious future that the World's Fair promised. He died 15 years after the fair closed, but it's now been 35 years since his undignified demise. And, let's be frank, his career--his meaningful musical career--was already over by 1962. After that it was just comeback after comeback, Vegas and TV specials. He seems more dated than the fair itself. Like the crop duster he flies in the movie, he's piston-powered, not space age.

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Which is not to say everything inside Elvistravaganza! is bad. There's a viewing lounge where you can watch It Happened at the World's Fair from some groovy molded plastic chairs that wouldn't look out of place in 2001. The Finnish artist Markku Laakso violently yanks Elvis out of context, placing him in folklore paintings and photographs above the Arctic Circle. He seems happier and more alive in that distant, foreign land. It's a better place to be than this sparkly mausoleum.
 
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