Flight of Fantasy: EMP’s Pop Culture Exhibit

Annie Han and Daniel Mihalyo (aka Lead Pencil Studio) at work designing the new fantasy exhibit at EMP
Annie Han and Daniel Mihalyo (aka Lead Pencil Studio) at work designing the new fantasy exhibit at EMP

How do you convey the wide-open, magical world of fantasy stories such as The Lord of the RingsThe Princess Bride and Harry Potter in an indoor, cave-like museum space? Such was the puzzle EMP faced when planning its new long-term exhibit, Fantasy: Worlds of Myth and Magic, which showcases pop culture artifacts (costumes, models, concept art and manuscript pages) from book, film and television favorites, including the aforementioned plus The HobbitLabyrinth,The Dark CrystalXena: Warrior Princess and The Wizard of Oz. To accomplish this task, the museum enlisted the help of local architect/installation artist duo Annie Han and Daniel Mihalyo ofLead Pencil Studio—an unexpected and exciting choice.

Known best for abstract, spare, highly structural art installations (like this), the duo has never before crafted an exhibit for museum artifacts. And while in previous work, Han and Mihalyo focused on conveying a single concept, in this case, they had to accommodate the display of dozens of specific and varied artifacts—not to mention that the result needed to engage both adults and kids. Nonetheless, they were intrigued. “Fantasy is something you can make up whenever, whereever,” Han says. “The possibilities are wide open.”

Lead Pencil’s design accommodates the exhibit’s many different imagined realities by using naturalistic elements, including tree-like columns covered in real bark and a dusting of pine needles on the floor. “We tried to pick something that wasn’t too specific to a certain world,” Mihalyo explains. “It had to be mutual and fantastical and contain the element of surprise.” You won’t see standard explanatory wall plaques; information is provided in more creative, interactive ways. Similarly, display cases differ from the usual clear boxes—some look like crystals embedded in the walls. “The whole goal is to suspend disbelief,” Mihalyo says. “We want you to remove the context of a museum and walk into another world.” 


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