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Originally published Saturday, December 22, 2012 at 7:03 PM

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EMP Museum launches into future with four new exhibitions

EMP Museum's four planned 2013 exhibitions — about video games, fantasy, women in rock and costumes — illustrate the institution's shift from music to pop culture in general.

Seattle Times movie critic

Season preview

EMP Museum

2013 exhibit schedule: "The Art of Video Games" (Feb. 15, 2013, to May 12, 2013); "Fantasy: Worlds of Myth and Magic" (opens April 27, 2013, with an end date to be determined), "Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power" (June 15, 2013 — Sept. 22, 2013), "Larger than Life: The Power of Costume"

(Nov. 16, 2013 — Sept. 14, 2014). At EMP Museum, 325 Fifth Ave. N., Seattle (206-770-2700 or

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EMP Museum's just-announced 2013 schedule features exhibits about video games, fantasy worlds, women in rock and costumes in popular culture.

Only one of the four shows is strictly music-focused — and that's part of a deliberate shift the museum has made, said director of curatorial affairs Jasen Emmons. In recent exhibits, such as "Worn to Be Wild" (now on view, showcasing leather jackets from music, movies and runway fashion), EMP has moved from being primarily a music museum to embracing "the broader umbrella of popular music and pop culture," Emmons said.

The new approach appears to be paying off: Attendance has inched up from 455,666 in 2010 to 522,722 in 2011.

The former Science Fiction Museum is also undergoing changes. Once a separate entity, it has now merged with EMP — and one of the year's new exhibits is part of that transformation. "Fantasy: Worlds of Myth and Magic" (opening April 27, 2013), will be the third of three permanent "galleries of the fantastical," said Emmons. One is the long-established science-fiction collection; one is an ongoing horror exhibit launched in 2011; and the third will be devoted to fantasy, with this exhibit as its debut.

Emmons said the fantasy show will include artifacts from film, television, literature, video games and comics. Among the highlights: manuscript material from J.R.R. Tolkien (including a timeline he created for the "Lord of the Rings" characters) borrowed from Marquette University; the Cowardly Lion costume and a Winkie guard from "The Wizard of Oz"; costumes from "The Princess Bride," including the six-fingered glove and Buttercup's wedding dress.

The look of the exhibit will match its fantastical theme. Local art installation company Lead Pencil Studio is creating a forest — "including fake pine needles on the floor, columns clad as trees with real bark on them," Emmons said. In it will be a massive tree called the Wizard's Library, with artifact manuscripts inside its trunk and a special "secret staircase" for children.

"It's very much a family-focused exhibit," said Emmons, adding that it will also contain a large animatronic dragon in a cave that children can manipulate.

This exhibit, created here at EMP, has no specific end date, though Emmons noted that some of the materials are on loan for a limited time. It will be, he said, an ongoing gallery, that will feel "not like an exhibit, but another world."

Also being created in-house is the exhibit "Larger Than Life: The Power of Costume" (opening Nov. 16, 2013). "We're looking at the idea of how actors and performers use costume to transform themselves," said Emmons. The museum tentatively plans to include costumes from the Austin Powers and James Bond movies, performance costumes from the band KISS, boxing gloves from "Raging Bull," and many more artifacts.

"Larger Than Life" will stay through the fall of 2014 and then become a touring show. The museum currently has two shows touring: "Avatar: The Exhibition" and "Out of This World: Extraordinary Costumes from Film and Television."

Touring shows contribute to EMP's bottom line. In 2012, the institution expects to clear $220,000 from its traveling programs, and it hopes to double that in 2013. Overall operating expenses for 2011 (the most recent year for which figures are available) were about $15 million.

In 2013, EMP Museum will also host two touring shows created elsewhere.

"The Art of Video Games," arriving Feb. 15, is from the Smithsonian's American Art Museum, and includes 80 video games from the past 40 years. The AAM, said Emmons, essentially crowdsourced the exhibit, offering up 240 video-game titles on its website and asking people to vote on which were the most significant. Among the selections: the Pac-Man and Super Mario Bros. games. EMP is the second stop for "The Art of Video Games" on a 10-city national tour.

Also touring is "Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power" (opening June 15), from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. "We needed a great music show, and that one fit the bill," said Emmons. "It's got such a nice range, from Bessie Smith to Lady Gaga." (Speaking of Gaga, her trademark meat dress will be part of the exhibit — now transformed, Emmons said, to beef jerky.) The exhibit spotlights more than 70 artists, many with video and listening stations.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or

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