EMP Museum, Seattle

The Experience Music Project Museum is dedicated to contemporary popular culture. Rising from the ground like some kind of shiny space ship its weird unsymmetrical form is like a giant piece of modern art in itself.

In the entrance hall inside it is just as grand and dramatic, with high curved ceilings of beautifully coloured metals.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

The first gallery we looked at was the ‘We are 12’ on the ground floor. I know nothing about American football so this was an education in itself, a small gallery dedicated to the Seattle Seahawks and their rise to success. There was video footage of game highlights and documentary style interviews dotted around the space to engage with. My favourite section was a wall that gave lots of small facts about the Seattle Seahawks team, but laid out so that you can interact with it. You could try to jump as high, or lay your hands against handprints to see the size difference. These men must be super humans, they are huge! But why is it called ‘We are 12’ (told you I know nothing)? It’s because the fans are so disruptively loud when the other team are playing ball that they are counted as the 12 players. As a fan it must feel pretty good to have a gallery that recognises you as a key member of the team.

Up the stairs is a spectacle. A tornado of guitars. All shapes and sizes suspended in an artistic whirlwind structure. Situated just outside the Guitars Gallery, which investigates the development of the guitar during the quest for volume. The text in this gallery is really cleverly done, high contrast to increase readability, it is also in a number of cases (including the introductory panel) presented on guitar fretboards. There is a natural flow to the gallery, from oldest to newest displayed around the outside edge of the darkly lit room. The guitars are in spotlights as if on stage themselves, shining out from the shadows and mounted as though they are floating, thus making room of the entire case spaces. In the centre of the room you can sit on pick-shaped seats to watch footage of guitarists, the music filling the gallery space making for an immersive guitar experience. There are also a number of famous guitars on display in the central part of the room, viewable from both sides, the information about them is displayed on the thin outer edge of the case as if it is written on a skinny guitar fretboard. The thought that has clearly gone into this gallery is incredible.

The Nirvana Gallery was also very well thought out. It is the first time that I have seen a galleries soundscape explained; it’s a deconstruction of the signature two-bar riff from Nirvana’s “Come as you are”. It creates quite an eerie, surreal sound, but means there is a direct and cleverly subtle link. It is also the first time that I have seen reference to case material construction in a museum – with the cases created from a century-old elm tree that fell down and was sourced from the Grays River Grange via the current Grange Master, Nirvana’s bassist Krist Novoselic.

The focus of the gallery is the development of Nirvana and the surrounding grunge scene. The objects on display are pretty incredible – from Kurt Cobain’s broken guitars to two of the in Utero angels set props, early hand drawn posters to tour photographs and set lists. It is noticeable that there is no reference to the darker drug related side of the bands history. Cobain’s death is mourned, but not explained in detail. Instead the focus is clearly on the music rather than the surrounding gossip. The same stance is taken in the Jimmy Hendrix Gallery. His world touring is mapped out on psychedelically colourful walls, his displayed passport (with a copy outside the case that you could turn each page of) indicates the amount places he personally shared his music with. The final text panel only makes reference to his ‘untimely death’, but not the cause of this.

For my visit there was the World of Wearable Art exhibition (WoW). It lived up to its acronym. Touring from New Zealand, it is a yearly international competition open to anyone, from fashion designers to architecture students – the aim being to create something out of this world. Ever seen a budgerigar bra? What about a dress made of wood? It was like walking into Lady Gaga’s wardrobe, only these things were clearly made to last more than one dramatic performance. The information panels with each outfit showed the diverse fields that the designers came from as well as their inspiration. There was film footage of the catwalk display which showed off these artworks at the end of the gallery, but instead of just a regular catwalk this was a spectacle in itself – more like a dramatic theatre performance. It was a spectacular spectacle. There were hands on aspects as well. Alongside most outfits there were signs saying ‘please don’t touch the art . . . touch this instead’, providing the same materials as in the piece to be touched. This really takes the edge off ‘no touching’ signage as it’s adding an alternative ‘please touch’. There was also a second room you could have a go at creating a piece of wearable art yourself, dressing up a paper doll.

The second part of the museum focused on film memorabilia, from Sci-Fi to Horror and Fantasy. For a film buff it would be heaven. Each gallery is dressed for the theme. The Horror Gallery was dark and creepy; Sci-Fi was like being on the set for Star-Trek in the bowels of a space ship; the Fantasy world had a dragon behind bars, a beautiful silver tree growing in the middle of it. All very well thought out spaces to show off the memorabilia on display. The timelines in the horror gallery were really good, as was an art installation linked to creating a shadow monster, where you cast a shadow but it adapted it so it looked more monster-like.

I did get a little excited flurry of what it must feel to see a prop from one of your favourite films as, in the Fantasy Gallery there was an annotated script from Labyrinth and a model of a Mystic from Dark Crystal. Both put a massive grin on my face.

It was expensive to get in, but the detail, thought, work (and obviously money) that has gone into each aspect of the museum is incredible. For the time you spend wandering around and the amount of incredible things you see, it’s definitely worth it.


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