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Philadelphia Is The Art Capital Giving Paris A Run For Its Money

Philadelphia probably isn’t the first destination to come to mind when you think of iconic, art-filled destinations, but you should definitely be adding this art mecca to your list. Though it probs won’t ever take the title from Paris as the “art capital of the world”, the Philly art scene is giving it a red-hot go.

From your more traditional fine art and museums, to modern and even street art, Philadelphia is a city bursting with colour and creativity. If you find yourself in the city (or take a day trip from New York) and want something cultural to immerse yourself in post Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, you should put these galleries and public art trails on your hit-list.

Philadelphia fine art

 

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Taking pride of place at the top of Benjamin Franklin Parkway – Philly’s answer to the Avenue des Champs-Élysées – is the Philadelphia Museum of Art. If you don’t recognise it by name, you will recognise it by its famed steps affectionately known as the ‘Rocky steps’ (after the movie scene). You can recreate the scene on the steps yourself, but whatever you do, don’t leave your visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art there.

Simply put, the Museum of Art is mind-blowing. It houses everything from a grand, Baroque exhibition from the 1600s and a Chinese Buddhist art hall, to a fashion installation and a Mexican modernism exhibition. There are several visiting exhibitions on at any given time too, so even repeat visitors can head back to find something new.

The US$20 (AU$28) admission fee gives you access to both the Museum of Art and Rodin Museum for two consecutive days, and trust us, you will need those two days.

If you get through the Museum of Art with time to spare, make the most of your admission fee and make your way down to the Rodin Museum. The collection of Auguste Rodin’s pieces in Philly is beaten in size only by the collection at the Musée Rodin in Paris, and it contains nearly 150 of his sculptures, drawings, paintings and musings.

For anyone with even the faintest interest in 19th and 20th century art, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts is just down the road and costs just US$15 (AU$21) to visit. Known internationally for its collection of American paintings and sculptures, the gallery is considered a very important tool for the study of American art history. There are iconic pieces by Roy Lichtenstein, Grant Wood and even Andrew Wyeth on the walls for you to feast your eyes on.

Contemporary contemplations

 

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The biggest collection of modern art in the city is housed at the Institute of Contemporary Art on the grounds of University of Pennsylvania. The institute has a knack for picking out promising artists, having hosting Andy Warhol and Robert Indiana’s (the man behind the iconic “Love” sculptures) solo shows prior to them shooting to international stardom. You might be lucky enough to catch the works of the next mover and shaker in the art world at the ICA, before anyone else even knows who they are.

More up-and-comers are on show at the much smaller but equally as exciting Vox Populi gallery. Up three flights of graffiti covered stairs, this cosy little gallery is well hidden in a historic building on 11th street. They don’t have a heap of space to work with, so the exhibiting artists are changed up on the regular.

Technically, the Philadelphia Magic Garden on South Street is considered a gallery space, but this eclectic wonderland is unlike any other gallery space you have ever seen.

Artist Isaiah Zagar has taken the traditional art of mosaicking and made it modern by completely transforming three inner-city lots into a 3D, immersive art installation. It is the city’s biggest mosaic work, made up of adorned on-site galleries and outdoor mazes. The space is open 11am to 6pm Wednesday through to Monday, and will cost you US$10 (AU$14) to get in.

Art out and about

 

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They don’t call Philadelphia The City of Murals for nothing. You don’t even have to step foot in any of the city’s galleries to see the work of world famous artists thanks to the stunning displays of street art, found on almost every corner of the city.

In Philadelphia, blank walls are considered a blank canvas. What started out as a bid to rid the city of graffiti under the direction of Mural Arts Philadelphia, is now a fully-fledged art initiative that has covered the city in more than 3600 murals. You can spot them everywhere, brightening up rooftops, alleyways, abandoned lots and the sides of buildings. Even Obey’s Shephard Fairey has left his mark on the city, with his “Rhythm and Diversity” piece sitting proudly above South 13th Street.

You can download a comprehensive map of murals from the Mural Arts Philadelphia website to map out a route around the city; or if you want some commentary on your mural walk, you can jump online to book a tour with one of the super knowledgeable Mural Arts volunteers.

(Lead image: Dedication of mural “The Phillies”, Miles Kennedy / Mural Arts Philadelphia)