New York City, NY

Philly Art Scene: All You Need To Know

By Jaclyn Einis
Sculpture on Market Street in PhiladelphiaPhoto by Jim Stapleton on

Inside, outside, underground, and 548 feet above ground—opening your eyes is all it takes to find art in Philadelphia. New Yorkers looking for a change of pace, or anyone seeking a thrilling cultural affair, will find plenty to get excited about in the City of Brotherly Love—just 90 minutes from NY.

Art After Hours

Some of the most inimitable artists are created under the influence, so who’s to say you shouldn’t indulge in some…spirited art consumption? Enjoy your culture after-hours, and with a side of refreshments, at the Barnes Foundation, the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA), and throughout Old City.

Formerly located outside the city in the Merion home of late collector Albert Barnes’, and moved to Philadelphia in 2012, The Barnes Foundation boasts more than 2,500 objects, including 800 paintings, most of which are works by impressionist, post-impressionist, and early modern masters. While the interior space replicates the original museum’s picture-packed walls, its exterior is a tranquil, contemporary marvel, meriting a visit on its own. On Fridays, bars open and a musical performance takes place in the indoor-outdoor courtyard, which stays open until 10 p.m.

Just over a half mile away down the lovely Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the Philadelphia Museum of Art also keeps its doors open late Friday nights. While, like The Barnes Foundation, the museum certainly merits a full (or several) day’s visit, we wouldn’t blame you for taking advantage of Friday night’s at the Philadelphia Museum, during which emerging artists set the scene while you enjoy tapas and drinks from 5-8:45 p.m. (Tickets are $18 for adults.) Enjoy the same extended hours, relax at the bar, and explore the museum on Pay-What-You-Wish Wednesday nights, when mini-film festivals, “Make Stuff” workshops, yoga sessions, and other creative “Happenings” take place.

There are plenty of options for gallery hoppers all around town in neighborhoods like Northern Liberties, but on the First Friday of each month, the art-thirsty make a beeline for Old City, where galleries open their doors—and a few bottles—from 5-9 p.m. The galleries are mostly concentrated between Front and Third, and Market and Vine Streets. Take a break for FringeArts’ Park After Dark, free First Friday performances (through September 6) located across from the organization’s future home on the waterfront.

Arts & Letters

Philly’s a college town, a city with a literary bent, and as you’ll soon discover, where there are letters, there will be art.

Located in the 1865 home of brothers Philip and Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach and the adjacent townhouse, the Rosenbach Museum & Library holds the treasures of the financially savvy siblings, whose Rosenbach Company was the foremost book dealer of the early 20th century. The library boasts first editions, manuscripts, and other rare texts from the likes of Lewis Carroll, Joseph Conrad, Emily Dickinson, William Shakespeare, and George Washington, which you may read with an appointment. Admission also includes a tour of the brothers’ impressive decorative arts collection and access to exhibits like the annual Ulysses-focused Bloomsday Exhibition each June. A recent tour featured an artist’s copy of the James Joyce text on rubber kitchen gloves; and the delightful Maurice Sendak collection, featuring original manuscripts, illustrations and rare works like The Chertoff Mural, a mural Sendak painted on the wall of a friend’s apartment.

Farther West, the University of Pennsylvania’s Anne & Jerome Fisher Fine Arts Library is a work of art in itself. The Frank Furness-designed building is not only a place to study, but also home to the Arthur Ross Gallery, an under-the-radar space that plays host to impressive exhibits, ranging from contemporary photography and fiber arts, to a bullfight-themed collection of Carnicero, Goya and Picasso works.

Furness, along with partner George Hewitt, is also the architect of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts’ (PAFA) Historic Landmark Building, whose main galleries feature works by distinguished alumni such as Thomas Eakins and Mary Cassatt. The pioneering art institution is rare for its dual role as both school and museum. Admission to the building also grants access to the Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building, where more modern works befit the newer space.

Each year, a new group of UPenn undergraduates acts as an advisory board and co-curators of annual exhibits at the Institute of Contemporary Art. This intimate museum celebrates innovation and was the first to exhibit shows of Andy Warhol, Robert Indiana, and many other groundbreaking artists. In student-friendly spirit, admission is free for all.

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