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Alien Encounters examines the role of aliens in science fiction cover art through the lenses of commerce, culture, and humanity.

Curators: Jacob McMurray, Brooks Peck
Exhibition Design: Jacob McMurray, Brooks Peck
Graphic Design: Jacob McMurray

Museum of Pop Culture, Seattle, September 10, 2006 - October 30, 2007


Aliens are one of the primary fascinations of science fiction, for when we look out at the stars we wonder not just what’s out there, but who’s out there. People have an intense curiosity about what extraterrestrials might look like and how they might live. And for as long as writers have written about aliens, artists have drawn them. The works in this exhibition are a sampling of how artists have envisioned aliens over the past 70 years. Their ideas vary widely. From bug-eyed monsters to biologically realistic beings, what an alien can look like is limited only by the imagination.

Most of these works are commercial art, commissioned for magazine and book covers to illustrate the stories inside. The challenge for the artist is to balance the need to be faithful to the authors’ ideas and to create a cover that will sell lots of books and magazines. What sells? Whatever grabs our attention, especially action, sizzle, and sex.

Yet aliens are more than simply bizarre or lurid creatures. Often the idea of what is “alien” reflects contemporary issues – especially the invading alien, a recurring emblem of our fear of the outsider. Conflict with aliens dominated early pulp magazine imagery, but over time the role of aliens has expanded, and they have become our friends, colleagues, even caretakers. Among these works you will see aliens at war, but also aliens working peacefully with humans. You will even find a few who have never met a human and have no idea of our existence.

These aliens are, of course, human creations, and can symbolize and exaggerate human traits such as aggression, greed, wisdom or compassion. So while these works might not teach us anything about real aliens, perhaps they can teach us about ourselves.