A Visit To Seattle MoPOP: Museum Of Pop Culture


Under the Space Needle's gaze, Rock history is rich and on display

By Angelo Comeaux

December 29, 2023

Shapes of MoPOP and the Seattle Space Needle

On a partly sunny afternoon in the Pacific Northwest rainshadow we visited the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) in Seattle, Washington. Located at 325 5th Ave at the foot of the Space Needle in the vibrant Seattle Center, MoPOP demands attention. The structure’s exterior is as fascinating as its contents. Colorful plates of metal twist and contort to create a shapeless ameba that seems alive. Formerly known as the Experience Music Project (EMP), the museum has evolved to showcase culture and history beyond the boundaries of music and thus has changed its name accordingly.

MoPOP's Sonic Pyre

There’s always something new to see at MoPOP with some exhibitions constantly in rotation but we will dedicate most of this piece to its heart, its soul, its Rock and Roll. It should be no surprise that upon entering we made a mad dash to the Nirvana room. For the uninitiated, Nirvana catapulted themselves to worldwide acclaim in 1991 with the release of their second album Nevermind. In the process they changed the direction of popular music, ushered in new genres “grunge” and “alternative rock”, and firmly put Seattle on the map as a music mecca.

A near infinite well of mythology exists in this modestly sized suite. Demo cassettes with scribbled labels, handmade concert posters for shows no one came to, intimate polaroids, smashed fragments of instruments, letters to friends and bandmates. It’s a chronology of a couple of punks with no prospects that made scorching music for the fun of it. Music that one day suddenly caught fire and engulfed its creators in the white hot flames of fame.

Nirvana In Untero Artifacts

Next door is the Jimi Hendrix exhibit. His match may have lit over in the United Kingdom but Hendrix was a born and raised Seattleite and the city is proud to call him one of their own. Most of his life as a musician was spent traveling so this room is filled with handwritten lyrics, musings, and doodles on hotel notepads from all over the world. There are some instruments in various states of destruction as well as this decorated self portrait, completed with a friend, that highlights his thoughts and experiences as he perceived them at the time.

Toon Hendrix

Another MoPOP treat is the Contact High room, a stunning visual collection of hip-hop photography from its inception to present day. This exhibit explores how the imagery of hip-hop has evolved just as much as the sound has, and the impact it has had on elevating the genre. Unfortunately this exhibit is closing on January 7th, 2024. There will be an all-out closing ceremony party though, and as of publication tickets to it are still available here.

MF Doom

Seattle’s music history is rich. Many artists and moments both big and small have crystallized in the Emerald City throughout the years. We encourage those interested to do their own digging because the MoPOP does not and cannot contain it all. And if you’re ever in Seattle you won’t regret a visit to see what’s there and what’s new. Every flame burns out eventually, but the MoPOP remembers and honors many Seattle artists that had the courage to burn bright.

Remembering Kurt Cobain