From Beatles to Star Trek, to Lego, popular culture exhibitions are awesome. Not only do they pique audience interest and help improve museum’s attendance figures, they are also usually surprisingly educational.

There are hidden practicalities to bringing in travelling exhibitions that are popular culture related as they are very very expensive to make in-house. Licensing fees alone can add up to a small fortune (to play a few seconds of a popular tv show can cost well over a thousand pounds), popular culture exhibitions are definitely easier and cheaper to bring in than to create in-house.

Out of the 190 exhibitions we have on Vastari, quite a few are popular culture related and here is my extremely subjective top 9.


9 - Ring Quest; the Monumental Series, inspired by JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and other writings

By Paul Gregory

Paul Gregory is not a name many people or art historians have heard of, yet he has acquired a faithful fan following for his magical fantasy landscapes. The Ring Quest is probably the most monumental body of work that he has produced and has toured widely over the last three decades.

All the works are displayed in hand-carved gilded frames with dragons and armour. These are the only major oil paintings of Tolkien’s sagas and they have not been shown in major and/or capital cities except for once in Stockholm and very early on in 1984 at the Barbican in London.

The paintings Gregory made of the saga were a great inspiration for the subsequent films directed by Peter Jackson.


8 - Into The Unknown: A Journey Through Science-Fiction

By Barbican

The only reason that this exhibition is not higher on the list is because it has not opened yet. Learning about this show gave me a new appreciation for just how hard and how expensive it is to create popular culture exhibitions such as this. To give an example, all the videos that will be used in the show have to be okayed by the studio, by the directors, the screen writers, and all actors who appear in the scene. (Hu)man-hours wise this starts to add up fast. On top of this, the studio often asks for a licensing fee, and every actor in the scene can ask for licensing fees as well.

Into the Unknown will be organised into four key chapters – Extraordinary Voyages, Space Odysseys, Brave New Worlds and Final Frontiers – that will each explore classic narratives of the genre in new ways. The exhibition is promising to include concept art and models from films Godzilla, Stargate and Dark City; original manuscripts from iconic authors such as Jules Verne, as well as objects from The Paul G. Allen Family Collection.


7 - The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes

By Exhibits Development Group (EDG)

This exhibition is different from others on this list as it is not connected to any existing franchises about the great detective. With three separate major franchises hitting the big and the small screens in the last 10 years: Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes and the Game of Shadows, the fan favourite BBC reimagining ‘Sherlock’, and CBS’s ‘Elementary’ the character of Sherlock Holmes has never been more recognised. Rather than ‘plugging into’ an existing franchise, this exhibition focuses on the source material and starts by looking at Arthur Conan’s life and beginnings as a medical student in Scotland, before continuing to examine the time in which he lived and only then moving onto Sherlock himself.

Another thing worth pointing out is that the hosting museum is encouraged to integrate objects from its own collection into the exhibition.


6 - Travelling Bricks - made of LEGO® bricks

By World Concert Artists

The one problem with popular culture exhibitions is that they are not cheap unless you count Lego exhibitions. This Lego show is not only affordable but it will also fit nicely in smaller and mid-sized museums. If you are looking for a popular culture exhibition with a big name tied to it, this is it. In addition, the show is educational, and has a 7 meter long Titanic sculpture how cool is that?


5 - 40 years of Playmobil

By Oliver Schaffer

If you are surprised I put Playmobil above Lego, so am I.

So here is the back story: Playmobil and Lego exhibitions are not backed or created by these companies. In the case of both, it is the hardcore enthusiasts, collectors and artists who build things with Lego bricks or create incredible scenes with Playmobil.

Playmobil (the company) is incredibly supportive of Oliver Schaffer’s exhibitions and work and does a lot to support the creator of this exhibition and the museum hosting it, including providing play boxes and tables for children. Also, Playmobil exhibitions are surprisingly affordable not just in their hiring fee but also on the transportation costs.


4 - Aardman: Art That Takes Shape

By Art Ludique Museum and Aardman Studios

The name Aardman is not widely known, although both younger and older viewers have watched (and probably loved) at least one of their movies which include Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run, and Shaun the Sheep. The exhibition was conceived and created in close collaboration with the Oscar-winning creators and producers of the famous British studio.

The show walks the audience through the creation of a plasticine animation from concept art to the finished animation and features over 50 characters and sets, over 300 concept artworks, character and set studies, watercolours, and storyboards also complete this exceptional exhibition.



By Abba Museum and Entertainment Exhibitions International

This exhibition is not just a music, fashion, pop extravaganza, it also tells the inspiring underdog story about how a small band from an unassuming European country took over the world. Like ABBA’s songs, this is a feel-good interactive show that aims to educate and inspire, while teaching the visitors that with a bit of perseverance anything is possible.


2 - Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds

By Museum of Pop Culture

“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.” (Captain’s Oath)

The exhibition concentrates on the original series and movies as well as on Captain Picard and his crew, and it will make any Star Trek fan cry. The show is interactive and will engage the audience. My personal favourite exhibit is the ‘KHAAAAN!’ video booth where visitors can recreate the memorable scene from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

With Abrams’ reboot still going strong and the 4th movie already announced the interest surrounding Star Trek is unlikely to fade anytime soon.


1 - Dreamworks Animation: Journey From Sketch To Screen

By Australian Center for Moving Image and Dreamworks

This is truly an incredible exhibition and if your museum has the budget for it - get it.

The exhibition will take your visitors on a journey from the inception of characters such as Shrek, Toothless, Po, and Croods. To the development of the story, and the technical parts of making the characters come to life and rendering. Dreamworks really opened up their archives for this show as the exhibition includes concept art never seen before. The events programme deserves a separate mention: as Dreamworks is a partner, the speakers for events are basically a who’s who of the animation world.

Does your exhibition deserve to be a part of this list?

If you have any popular culture exhibitions, or if you’ve heard about some fantastic exhibitions please do get in touch with our Travelling Exhibitions team.

If you want to host any of the exhibitions login here or register for a free account here.