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Winter 2013: New family-friendly exhibitions at NYC museums

NYC museums are opening a wealth of family-friendly midwinter shows, from explorations of the movie Avatar to an exhibition all about whales.

 (Courtesy Liberty Science Center)
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Courtesy Liberty Science Center

"Avatar: The Exhibition" Liberty Science Center

 (Photograph: Marcos Staphne)
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Photograph: Marcos Staphne

"The Big Adventure" at the Brooklyn Children's Museum

 (Courtesy Children's Museum of Ma)
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Courtesy Children's Museum of Ma

"Face to Face" at Children's Museum of the Arts

 (Photograph: Joe Levack)
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Photograph: Joe Levack

"Gravity and Grace: The Monumental Works of El Anatsui"

 (Photograph: Marielle Solan)
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Photograph: Marielle Solan

"Harry Potter: The Exhibition" at Discovery Times Square

 (Courtesy 92nd Street Y)
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Courtesy 92nd Street Y

"John Nickle: Selected Illustrations, 1988–2012" at the 92nd Street Y

 (Photograph: Courtesy of the Children's Museum of Manhattan)
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Photograph: Courtesy of the Children's Museum of Manhattan

"10-Foot Cops: The NYPD's Mounted Unit"

 (Image: Taylor Jones)
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Image: Taylor Jones

"They're Baaack! Return of the 17-Year Cicadas" at the Staten Island Museum

 (Courtesy New York Hall of Science)
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Courtesy New York Hall of Science

"Tony Hawk/Rad Science" at the New York Hall of Science

 (© Brandon Cole)
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© Brandon Cole

Photo of sperm whale and diver at "Whales: Giants of the Sea" at AMNH

At the start of the new year, we had no idea how many amazing new shows NYC museums would announce for midwinter—and find a way to mount so quickly. Just when we need to stimulate our senses the most, kid-enticing exhibitions are popping up all over town, from a show about whales (at the American Museum of Natural History) and an exhibit looking at the physics of Tony Hawk's skateboarding moves (at the New York Hall of Science) to a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the movie Avatar (at Liberty Science Center) and an interactive exhibition that explores the history, concept and practice of children's self-portraiture (Children's Museum of the Arts). NYC museums are the obvious place for kids and their parents to find shelter from winter's onslaught, as these exhibits—and museum family days galore—attest.

Best new museum exhibits

"Avatar: The Exhibition"

Fans of Avatar (2009), director James Cameron's now legendary film (it's the highest-grossing theatrical release of all time), won't want to miss this exhibition on the whys and hows of its creation. Savvy kids will learn about motion capture and 3-D technologies via interactive installations and original props from the movie. Ages 8 and up.

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"The Big Adventure"

The latest traveling exhibition to land at the Brooklyn Children's Museum couldn't have a better name: "Big Adventure" is packed with the kind of experiential challenges more often found at major sports facilities or, well, adventure parks. Kids can climb up Adventure Mountain, a six-foot rock wall; make their way through the Tunnels of Fun; scale the Crow's Nest for a better view; test the virtual Out on a Ledge, which makes you feel as if you're walking a narrow beam three stories high; and attempt to cross an alligator-infested river (okay, not really) in River Crossing: Bridge Out!, among many other physical interactive experiences. Ages 6 to 12.

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"Face to Face"

This exhibition of 40 works drawn from the CMA's permanent collection focuses on self-portraiture spanning painting, drawing, digital technologies and film. Best of all, interactive installations let kids explore the genre themselves, taking in the shape, sound and texture of portraits, and trying out a photo booth that projects kids' images on the wall, which will stream into a montage that will become part of the museum's permanent collection. During the course of the show, CMA invites aspiring artists to submit their own works to the museum for possible inclusion in the museum's permanent collection. All ages.

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"Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui"

One of the world's preeminent sculptors, Ghanaian-born El Anatsui, gets his first solo exhibition in NYC with this show at the Brooklyn Museum. His massive works, of which 30 are on view, are in equal measure intimate and monumental, as a result of his working methods and the materials he uses, among them found objects made of wood, aluminum and other metals. His best-known works are textile-like swaths of "cloth" fashioned from flattened metal bottle caps that are threaded together with copper wire—malleable works that change shape with each new space they inhabit. Kids are bound to be as inspired as their parents by the artist's cross-cultural yet deeply original vision. All ages.

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"Harry Potter: The Exhibition"

After a successful run at Discovery Times Square last spring, "Harry Potter: The Exhibition" is returning to the midtown space. Fans of J.K. Rowling's fantasy series will revel in the magical world, viewing displays inspired by the films' sets, plus more than 200 models, costumes and props from the movies. The exhibit, which will be updated to include artifacts from the final HP film (a Deathly Hallows display case, a silicon model of Voldemort's snake), will also sport holiday decor. All ages.

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"10-Foot Cops: The NYPD's Mounted Unit"

Few spectacles stop people in their tracks on NYC streets as much as mounted police. On loan from downtown's New York Police Museum, "10-Foot Cops" looks at the phenomenon and history of this elite NYPD unit through artifacts—among them saddles on which kids can have their picture taken, uniforms, paintings and a replica of an NYPD stable—archival video (such as a 1940 short called "Training Police Horses") and special talks that illuminate the role and daily lives of these regal public ambassadors. All ages.

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"They're Baaack! Return of the 17-year Cicadas"

This exhibit all about cicadas, the noisy flying creatures, looks at why the genus Magicicad is called the 17-year cicada—and why they're coming back this spring. It will also let kids in on what the phenomenon looks like and what it has to teach humans. Check out the light sculpture Magicicada Staten Island Variation by artist Brendon Ballengée, a light sculpture set up in the museum's courtyard to attract the bugs and entymologists-in-training. All ages.

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"Tony Hawk/Rad Science"

This exhibition takes a kid-friendly look at the physics of skateboarding. Little Tony Hawk fans will learn how the laws of gravity, force and velocity make their hero's skating finesse possible through interactive exhibits like Isaac Newton's Pool, which teaches Newton's laws of motion, and Friction Hill, which examines how frictions affects your ride. All ages.

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"Whales: Giants of the Deep"

The museum's iconic big blue whale will get some company with this exhibit, which comes to New York courtesy of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Visitors will experience a re-creation of a dive alongside sperm whales hunting for giant squid; listen to whale song; crawl through a life-size replica of a blue whale heart; and learn about the biology and behavior of whales and other marine mammals. Artifacts on view include an authentic 58-foot-long sperm whale skeleton; items that chronicle the relationshiop between humans and whales, including a New Bedford whaling log; and objects made from whale bones, such as weaponry and jewelry. All ages.

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"Against the Grain"

Featuring more than 90 examples of contemporary woodwork, "Against the Grain: Wood in Contemporary Art, Craft and Design" examines the ways in which modern technologies and design have influenced the process and function of woodworking. All ages.

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