Besides being a fascinating stop for anyone interested in US history, Philadelphia's community-facing art scene truly emphasizes its place the "city of brotherly love". The artists and makers in this city have been working overtime to create a highly productive, people-focused art scene, bustling with the works of seasoned Philly creatives and newcomers alike. Musician and photographer Jon Chu tells us where to find the city's aesthetic hot-spots and the best Philly cheesesteaks.
Philadelphia is championing an art trend that is happening in most American cities that aren't Los Angeles or New York, a move away from commercialism to a more community and DIY oriented art community. So many of the gallery owners I spoke to expressed such visible contentment in being able to represent local and unknown artists without going out of business. While the Philadelphia museum institutions still hold their own, as always, the real moves are being made by the younger generation (and members of the older generation who are sick of the commercial hustle) and their emphasis on local art and building supportive artistic communities.
Art Museum District
Philadelphia Museum of Art: 2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy, Philadelphia, PA 19130
The sheer quantity of Rocky memorabilia in Philadelphia, proudly presented in the form of t shirts on construction workers or posters pinned up in neighborhood bars, is always astonishing to me. But when you arrive on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, or the "Rocky Steps", it all starts to make sense. I think it's one of the best museums in the country for the ambiance alone, and the exhibitions never disappoint. Put this at the top of your list.
Rodin Museum: 2151 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy, Philadelphia, PA 19130
If you're even remotely interested in Rodin, this is a must see. Again, like the Philadelphia Museum of Art, just being in the space is enough, the rest is icing on the cake. Being in the Rodin Museum feels like you're in a space outside of time, akin to a Stanley Kubrick film. The museum has a suggested admission price of $10 ($7 for students) and the garden is always free.
Barnes Foundation: 2025 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy, Philadelphia, PA 19130
The Barnes Foundation houses the private collection of the Barnes family and specializes in post-impressionist and early modern paintings. The Foundation boasts a number of Renoirs, Cezannes, Matisses, Picassos, Modiglianis, and Van Goghs. In addition to its permanent collection, the Foundation usually has a temporary exhibit featuring more contemporary artists.
The Fabric Workshop and Museum: 1214 Arch St, Philadelphia, PA 19107
An establishment with a misleading name, this Philadelphia institution (founded in 1977) presents work not only within fabric but in a variety of mediums. Previous exhibitions have included Louise Bourgeois, Richard Tuttle, and Ray Metzker. The museum space is exceptional and you can also attend a guided tour of artists' studio spaces every half an hour.
The Print Center: 1614 Latimer St, Philadelphia, PA 19103
Another Philadelphia institution founded in 1915 under the name The Print Club, The Print Center has been integral in promoting the art of printmaking in Philadelphia and beyond. The medium of printmaking was long marginalized, but in the middle of the 20th century it began to gain some popularity, in part thanks to the advent and rise of photography. The space itself is very intimate and translates that feeling of being the important neighborhood establishment that it is.
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts: 118-128 N Broad St, Philadelphia, PA 19102
A combination educational facility and museum, the PAFA "promotes the transformative power of art and art making". This mission statement resonates as you approach the building, coming into direct contact with massive public art pieces that immediately alter the urban environment. Once inside you'll get a great sampling of contemporary art, often featuring works of students from PAFA. The museum is not free however, tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for students.
Fleisher Ollman Gallery: 1216 Arch St, Philadelphia, PA 19107
A simple, beautiful, bright space with a unique curation of contemporary art. The work represented can range from an eclectic mix of self-taught artists to more established names within the Philadelphia art scene and beyond. Visit this wonderful space and then head to the more restaurant-dense part of Chinatown and grab a bite. May I suggest Nan Zhou?
Paradigm Gallery + Studio: 746 S 4th St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
A very homey space committed to featuring the work of local artists. Although it only opened in 2010, Paradigm is the quintessential Philadelphia gallery space, completely dedicated to emerging local artists in a variety of mediums. The staff is friendly and will excitedly discuss any of the art presented in the gallery as well as the greater Philadelphia art community.
Fleisher Art Memorial: 719 Catharine St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
The Fleisher Art Memorial is named in honor of Samuel S. Fleisher, an entrepreneur and philanthropist who came to prominence in Philadelphia in the late 19th century. Fleisher firmly believed that art should be accessible to everybody, and he put this belief into practice by creating the Graphic Sketch Club in 1898, an organization that gave art lessons to children in lower class neighborhoods. The Fleisher Art Memorial carries on that tradition today, offering both paid and tuition free classes and the opportunity to present work in their gallery. The Fleisher Art Memorial embodies Philadelphia's community-oriented art scene. I definitely recommend visiting if you want to get a real sense of the local art community and its history in Philadelphia.
Brickbat Books: 709 S 4th St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
Brickbat Books is a quaint bookstore with an eclectic selection and an emphasis on art books. The offerings range from children's books and paperbacks to signed and out of print art books. Peruse through a Ray Johnson first edition and then head over to South St and grab a classic Philly cheesesteak.
Vox Populi: 319 N 11th St #3, Philadelphia, PA 19107
Vox Populi is home to a multitude of galleries housing a wide variety of contemporary artists. Vox Populi seems to come up more than any other art space in Philadelphia, and for good reason. It really encapsulates the communal and DIY mindset that has defined the art scene of this city for the past couple decades. A must see.
Larry Becker Contemporary Art: 43 N 2nd St, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Located in Old City, the former bastion of commercial galleries in Philadelphia, Larry Becker is a small, but well managed gallery specializing in abstract and minimal art in a variety of mediums. Definitely worth checking out, try and combine it with the The Center For Art in Wood and / or the Clay Studio, all within a short walk from one another.
The Center for Art in Wood: 141 N 3rd St, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Every square inch of the Center for Art in Wood is packed with beautiful wood-based art. You could easily drop a few hours here without realizing it. Philadelphia is filled with these seemingly niche spaces that in reality encompass much more than their names suggest. Admission to the temporary exhibitions and gift shop are free, and the permanent collection admission is donation based.
The Clay Studio: 139 N 2nd St, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Established in 1974, The Clay Studio is a non-profit entity dedicated to promoting education within ceramic arts and championing artists working in ceramics from all over the world. The gallery store is great, I could've spent a lot of money on the mugs alone. Such beautiful work!
Locks Gallery: 600 S Washington Square, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Locks Gallery was founded in 1968, one of the holdovers of the commercial galleries that have been slowing disappearing and giving way to the more underground art galleries that now define the Philadelphia art scene. With that said, Locks Gallery is definitely worth checking out. Right on the corner of Washington Square Park, a visit here should be combined with an extensive walk through this historical neighborhood, Independence Hall is only a few blocks away.
Crane Arts: 1400 N American St, Philadelphia, PA 19122
Housed in a former frozen seafood processing warehouse, Crane Arts is now home to an eclectic group of galleries and learning facilities. The Crane Arts building is a very unique, cavernous space. It feels very isolated from the rest of the city (in a good way) but is still just a stone's throw away from an abundance of great bars and restaurants. Fjord Gallery is often mentioned by the art community in Philadelphia, but if you visit, make sure and check their hours beforehand as they are very limited. The Philadelphia Photo Arts Center serves as a gallery, educational space, and printing facility. All the spaces are worth checking out if you're in the area.
Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia: 118 S 36th St, Philadelphia, PA 19104
Head west over the Schuylkill River and visit this branch of the University of Pennsylvania. The ICA has been championing new and exciting contemporary art since it was founded in 1963 (Andy Warhol held his first solo museum show here in 1965). Admission is free and it's within walking distance from the main bus terminal for you east coasters coming in on public transportation.
Jet-setting this summer? Check out the guide to our home on the west coast, Los Angeles!