By Renée S. Gordon
“My negro sculpture is a constant joy and my pictures look all the better for having the carvings for company.”
–Dr. Albert Barnes 1922
Philadelphia has a long history of both creating and supporting the arts and has also served as an exemplar for crafting and nurturing cutting edge arts programs from colonial times. The city, founded in 1682, is one of the earliest examples of a city designed on a rectilinear street grid with streets radiating from east to west, the Delaware to the Schuylkill Rivers from Philadelphia quickly developed a thriving art community and a little more than 100-years later artist Charles Wilson Peale established North America’s first public museum on July 18, 1786.
Five squares, urban greenspaces, were a prominent feature of surveyor Thomas Holme’s 1682 plan. These squares, Center, Southeast, Northeast, Southwest and Northwest, were named for their location as Quakers did not name places after individuals. In the early 19th-century the squares were renamed, with the exception of Center now the site of City Hall, Franklin, Washington, Rittenhouse and Logan.
A century later the city decided a route was needed that provided easy access from Center City to Fairmount Park and the countryside beyond. The diagonal Benjamin Franklin Parkway, designed after France’s Place de la Concorde, was the answer. Logan Square morphed into a circle and became home to one of the city’s greatest pieces of outdoor art, the Swann Fountain featuring sculpted Native Americans representing the Delaware, Schuylkill and Wissahickon Rivers.
Philadelphia is an indoor and outdoor art gallery. Art, literally, everywhere allows both the casual visitor and the longtime resident an opportunity to view outdoor works and many of the best permanent and traveling exhibits in the world. The city also boasts Bartram’s Gardens, an 18th-century house and garden that is the first botanical garden in the nation. www.bartramsgarden.org
PHOTO: Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Museum.
Many of our stellar outdoor works are direct results of Philadelphia initiatives. The city’s Chief Cultural Officer is a cabinet level position. In 1959 the city enacted one of the country’s first Percent for Art Ordinances, successfully melding new construction with the commissioning of public artworks. The 1984 Mural Arts Program, founded to combat the graffiti problem, has resulted in thousands of murals and Philadelphia’s being noted for having more murals than any other city in the world. www.muralarts.org/tour/tours-offered
The “Philadelphia Art Safari” in this article encompasses painting, sculpture, architecture and landscapes. Our safari won’t take us across the country but it will be an expedition to revisit the old and check out what is new on Philadelphia’s art scene. The museums highlighted are largely within walking distance of each other and are strung out along Franklin Parkway like pearls on a necklace.
“Maya. 2012 Lords of Time,” the current special exhibit in the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, helps us answer the question, “Did the Maya predict an apocalypse in 2012?” The exhibit debuted here and runs until January 13, 2013, a possible hint. Three floors of galleries present more than 100 artifacts, life-sized replicas and interactive stations.
Your visit to the museum should include but should not be limited to the special exhibit. There are more than 20 galleries as well as gardens, shops, restaurants and other must-sees are the 2nd-floor “Human Evolution” display and the 12-ton Sphinx of Ramses II. 3260 South Street. www.penn.museum
Sister Cities Park is the newest park in the Parkway Museums District. Located at 18th and B. F. Parkway this tiny oasis, site of the city’s gallows until 1823, is dedicated to Philadelphia and its 10 international sister cities. The 1.2-acre wedge-shaped space houses a visitor center, the Milk & Honey Café and three distinct areas. Small wooden boats are available for rental to float in the on-site pond. The height of the fountain waterspouts reflects the population of a corresponding sister city. www.sistercitiespark.org
An unsung jewel in Philadelphia’s crown is the 1805 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA). The Landmark Building, designed with Moorish elements by Furness and Hewitt, is breathtaking. Originally there was no lighting in the entry that led to the grand staircase and galleries were lit by natural light. Tours begin at the top of the stairs and proceed chronologically through American art from colonial times onward.
“PAFA and Dr. Barnes” is exhibited in Gallery 7 of the Landmark Building until July 8th. The presentation pays homage to the Barnes Collection and the fact that in 1923 Barnes presented 75 of his paintings and sculptures to the public at PAFA. 128 N. Broad Street. www.pafa.org
Though founded in 1824 the current Franklin Institute structure dates from 1934. It is one of the first interactive science museums in the nation and has wide appeal for adults and children. Highlights of a regular visit are the Fels Planetarium, Tuttleman IMAX Theater and special exhibits.
PHOTO: Stone figure of maize god.
“Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Ancient Times” will be on display until October 14th. These 20 scroll fragments and more than 500 artifacts represent a tangible link to the Biblical era. 20th & Parkway. www.fi.edu
The Philadelphia Museum of Art has a 300,000-piece collection that spans 2000 years and the Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building, located opposite the main building, features the costume and textile collection. “Gauguin, Cézanne, Matisse: Visions of Arcadia” is on exhibition in the PMA until September 3rd. www.philamuseum.org
Two areas not to be overlooked are the “Rocky” Statute, located to the right of the museum at ground level and the Sculpture Garden. This charming 1-acre garden has winding pathways and an excellent view of the river.
There are only two museums dedicated to the works of sculptor Auguste Rodin and they are in Paris and Philadelphia. The Philadelphia collection is the largest outside of Paris and consists of 120 sculptures and drawings, prints and letters. Jules Mastbaum, who is also responsible for the 1929 Neo-classical building, privately held the collection. On display are “the Kiss,” The Burghers of Calais” and “The Gates of Hell” featuring 220 figures on its 18-ft. tall façade. His iconic work, “The Thinker,” is situated in the beautifully landscaped garden. The Rodin is currently undergoing restoration and will reopen on July 13th. 22nd St. & Parkway. www.rodinmuseum.org
Albert Barnes, a self-made millionaire, began collecting artworks in 1912 and continued until his death in 1951. During that time he amassed one of the most impressive collections of impressionist, post-impressionist and early modern paintings in the world. Additionally he collected African, Pennsylvania German, Mexican and Native American artworks as well as antiquities and textiles. The finest international artists are represented including 16 Modiglianis 59 Matisses, 4 Pippins, 7 Van Goghs, 69 Cézannes, 181 Renoirs and 125 African sculptures, masks and implements. He was the first to exhibit African items as art and the first to exhibit it alongside European and American artists. His works were, by his design, hung to reflect a harmony of color, line, light and space.
Barnes established a foundation in 1922 and works were originally displayed at his Merion estate, Lauraston. In June the museum opened in its new 4.5-acre location on the Parkway. The artwork is displayed within a 12,000-sq. ft. gallery that “copies” the original Neo-classical mansion with no artwork more than 1/8-inch from its previous location. The design has been described as a “gallery within a garden and garden within a gallery.” Entrance is gained through a public garden with an elongated table fountain. The building has a green roof and is constructed of wood, steel and fossilized Israeli limestone. The campus cost exceeded $200-million and is an architectural artwork in itself.
The museum shop is outstanding as is the restaurant. The facility is also available for event rental. www.barnesfoundation.org
Even the most intrepid “art hunter” must rest and the ideal place to rest while continuing the quest is the LEED Gold-certified Hotel Palomar, 117 S. 17th Street. The Art Deco luxury boutique hotel is situated in what was the 1930s American Institute of Architects building. Furnishings are custom designed and the artworks are original. www.hotelpalomar-philadelphia.com
Anatole France said, “In art as in love, instinct is enough.” Follow your instincts, seek out the art that speaks to you and share the experience.
Information on all sites, schedules and related events is available online. www.visitphilly.com
I wish you smooth travels!
Writing is also an art form and native Philadelphians are amply represented in that area too. Two recently published works deserve notice.
The first in a series of novels set in Philadelphia, “Justice Hunter”, has just been released. Author Harper Dimmerman, a lawyer and adjunct professor of law at Temple University tells a tale of murder, mayhem and the Philadelphia legal system based on his real life experiences. www.amazon.com/Justice-Hunter-ebook/dp/B007WIEE0K
Renée Pires has written the perfect summer travel guide, “Day Trips from Philadelphia.” With this book and a tank of gas you can enlarge the area of your art safari, have an adventure and make a family memory. [email protected]