Feature: Kirk Hammett’s “It’s Alive!” Exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum


It’s a well-known fact that legendary Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett is an avid collector of horror and sci-fi art and memorabilia, but it’s quite another thing to gaze at the incredible spectacles inhabiting his collection in person. Part of the proof currently lives in the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, and has had a pleasant stay there since the opening on August 12 of It’s Alive! Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Art from the Kirk Hammett Collection. Once I found out that on November 5th, Kirk Hammett would be visiting the exhibition personally for a catalog signing event, I made my way to the renowned Peabody Essex Museum to speak with him about his vast collection, and to embark on a personal tour and take it all in myself.

As a longtime classic horror and sci-fi enthusiast, this style of exhibition truly was right up my alley. Partially with the critical eye of a photojournalist, and partially with the fascinated eye of a fan, I walked through the gallery in awe. Being the aforementioned horror/sci-fi fan that I am, it was not my first time seeing the poster art for some of my favorite classic films – but it certainly was the first time seeing the originals in person, and in a whole new light. While classic movie posters may have simply been treated as disposable promotional materials at the time, they hold a distinctive place in art and film history, and stand to be regarded as noteworthy works today. That seems to be precisely the goal in having movie posters on display in a museum – for the public to regard them as the true works of art that they are. Roaming the exhibition is like taking a stroll through time, as posters spanning the 1920’s through the 1970’s display both an evolution of art style, and signs of the times. Much of the artwork has even made it onto Kirk Hammett’s very own custom guitars, which are not just for the sake of visuals, as they have been put to good use in concert as well. Projected on portions of the gallery walls are the menacing glares of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff (as both Frankenstein and The Mummy), awaiting you around practically every corner. Even if you manage to make it past them, you still won’t escape without being greeted by a life-size Triffid, and perhaps even King Kong. 

The primary focus of the exhibition is, of course, the movie posters – many of which are exceptionally unique, some thought to be entirely lost for years until Hammett managed to acquire them as part of his personal collection. But there are many other highlights of the collection on display, including original props from well-loved films, costumes worn by iconic film actors such as Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff themselves, and an intriguing array of 1960’s and 70’s toys featuring the classic Universal monsters. Adorning the walls side by side with the posters were stunning oil and acrylic artworks I simply couldn’t stop staring at, as they show how the incredible wide world of horror art comes in many forms. 

That day, I walked through the exhibition several times in a row and still wanted more, still felt like there was some ground I had yet to cover (another post-interview walk-through helped to satisfy that). By the time I reached the site where preparations were taking place for Kirk Hammett’s signing event, in anticipation of our interview, countless thoughts and questions spun through my mind like the wrapping up of a Mummy – but, for time’s sake, it was best to keep things brief. Nonetheless, it was a great conversation, and I feel I learned a great deal more about Kirk and his collection while we spoke. You can listen to the full interview via the Official Metal Magnitude YouTube Channel

It’s Alive! stands as a culmination of history, art, music, pop culture, and cinema, all rolled up into one vast wonderland that cannot be missed. November 26th marks the date that It’s Alive! will make its way out of the Peabody Essex Museum, so you still have time if you’re in the New England area this month. But, as Kirk stated in our interview, “the idea is to bring this collection all over the world”, so wherever you are, the opportunity to see it will likely come your way at some point in the future. 

Photo Credit: R. Kikuo Johnson

For more on the exhibition and the Peabody Essex Museum, visit https://www.pem.org. To keep up with the latest on Kirk Hammett, head to https://www.facebook.com/kirkHammett/, https://twitter.com/KirkHammett, or https://www.instagram.com/kirkhammett/.

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