Experience Music Project's 2012 season will include displays about rock band AC/DC, the black leather jacket and Jimi Hendrix's time in London as well as revamped science-fiction galleries in the Seattle museum.
One of the music scene’s hardest-living rock bands. The most probing questions of the universe. The ultimate rebel-fashion statement. And Seattle’s beloved Hendrix. These cornerstones of cool are all part of the Experience Music Project’s big reveal for the year.
“Icons of Science Fiction,” opening in June, is one of the four exhibits to take the stage this year. It will be accompanied by “Worn to be Wild,” a pop-culture history of the black leather jacket (October), “Hear My Train A Comin’,” a display of Jimi Hendrix’s time in London, to commemorate his 70th birthday (November) and kicking things off, a traveling exhibit on rock sensation AC/DC (April).
While divergent in content, all four shows are bound by a common narrative: the story of an icon through the ages, whether it be an article of clothing or a global guitar god.
“Usually, exhibits of this type end up being more like surveys,” said Jacob McMurray, who is responsible for Hendrix’s exhibition.
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As curator he has the difficult task of making niche content accessible to the masses, so that both the novice and the music nerd can enjoy all that EMP has to offer. For McMurray, that means taking a transcendent figure like Hendrix, and humanizing him.
“With figures like Hendrix, there’s a lot of focus on the celebrity,” he explained, “but the idea of the human side of it all is much more appealing.”
“Hear My Train A Comin’ ” will magnify the first nine months of Hendrix’s career as it unfolded in London. Most fans know the musician for his short-lived fame, but what they aren’t familiar with is his trajectory from “being nowhere on the musical map and popular consciousness to releasing three singles and an album,” said McMurray.
Artifacts will include costumes from his stage days, fragments of his legendary guitar fan letters, and, of course, photographs that capture the essence of the music scene at the time.
McMurray acknowledges that Hendrix has been given considerable coverage by the EMP in the past, but said that he hopes this year’s show will cast the musician in a new light — presenting him as more than just a rock god, but as someone “with everyday desires and dreams that just happened to make this giant mark on the world.”
The sci-fi exhibit will also contain items that made their mark, including Capt. Kirk’s command chair, an artifact from the “Star Trek” series.
The entrance to the exhibit will be marked by a giant raw-metal structure, a portal of sorts into another world — the interstellar space of science fiction. Like the illuminated tunnels of such sci-fi classics as “Star Trek” and “Stargate,” visitors will cross this threshold and behold six hubs featuring the genre’s biggest questions: What happens if aliens take over the world? And, what if we could explore the stars? These and other queries, will be the genesis of the new sci-fi display.
“We want to get you playing with story creation, storyboarding and idea generation,” said Brooks Peck, a curator for this year’s sci-fi unit, “to break down that wall between visitor and creator.”
Peck is perhaps most excited by the opportunity to showcase an original Dalek from the set of “Dr. Who.” The tall, salt-shaker-like structures are the cybervillains of the popular U.K. series, which has been running intermittently for nearly 50 years.
Just as McMurray’s goal is to display the human side of a musical powerhouse, Peck hopes that “Icons” will be relatable for the audience, despite the genre’s reputation as being whimsical and indulgent.
“One thing sci-fi does is it holds up a mirror to our reality, and that mirror is often a warped mirror,” he explained. “Sometimes it’s hard for people to talk about a topic directly because it’s too inflammatory. But if you take that topic and you set it in a fantastical world, a science fiction world, you can put it at a remove and make it easier.”
In many ways it’s part of a revival and reshaping of the EMP’s image.
“What’s different is that this is much more focused than previous galleries,” said EMP spokeswoman Anita Woo.
She admits that until working on this year’s calendar, she was a novice when it came to most of the show’s featured content. Collaborating with curators like Peck and McMurray, though, has piqued her interest.
“I’ve been learning about this Dalek,” said Woo, of the murderous robots. “Everyone is so excited that (“Dr. Who”) is now on my Netflix queue.”
Celina Kareiva: firstname.lastname@example.org