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Top Can’t Miss Exhibits in Philadelphia

September 25, 2021

Philadelphia is filled with wonderful art museums and galleries to explore, many of which have recently reopened with new health and safety measures in place. Below is a roundup of some of the exciting exhibits that are on view now or coming soon around the region.

Exhibitions on view now:

The 19th Amendment: How Women Won the Vote at the National Constitution Center

Photo courtesy of the National Constitution Center.

2020 commemorated the centennial of the women’s suffrage movement and the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote. The National Constitution Center chronicles this pivotal period in American history with the debut of a new permanent exhibit, The 19th Amendment: How Women Won the Vote, now on view. Inside the 3,000-square-foot exhibit, visitors will find nearly 100 artifacts that highlight some of the many influential women who were a prominent part of the 70-year movement, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, and Ida B. Wells.

Designing Motherhood at the Mütter Museum

Designing Motherhood at Mütter Museum. Photograph by Constance Mensh for DM and the Mütter Museum.

Designing Motherhood at the Mütter Museum is the inaugural exhibition of a larger project that spans an additional exhibition (opening September 2021 at Philadelphia’s Center for Architecture and Design), a book, design curriculum, oral history project and public programs, such as talks and workshops, that examine how the designs of tools, systems, techniques and customs shape and define the public perception and realities of human reproduction and birth. On view in the Mütter Museum’s Cadwalader Gallery through May 2022, the exhibition analyzes designs of reproductive health — including those responsible for shaping such designs — as well as the medicalization of reproduction. Objects on view include a breast pump flange, twenty-first-century silicone pessary, women’s health magazines and other items, ranging from products of once-guarded medical knowledge to objects that were conceived out of necessity or political will.

Between Us and Catastrophe at the Science History Institute

Photo courtesy of Science History Institute.

Between Us and Catastrophe is a free, outdoor exhibition featuring portraits of essential workers taken by local photographer Kyle Cassidy installed on the exterior of the Science History Institute in Old City along Chestnut Street. The portraits aim to recognize those who have been an essential force in the ongoing fight against the pandemic in Philadelphia, including nurses, doctors, sanitation workers, mask producers, and others. More information and an accompanying audio segment is available online.

Taking Space: Contemporary Women Artists and the Politics of Scale at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Marie Watt (b. 1967), Skywalker/Skyscraper (Allegory), 2012. Reclaimed wool blankets, satin binding, thread. 119 x 228 inches. PAFA, Museum purchase. © Marie Watt.

Set to originally debut in 2020 and one of three exhibitions held by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts that celebrate women artists and honor the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, Taking Space: Contemporary Women Artists and the Politics of Scale features works by over 30 women artists, focusing on space, size, and repetition in the artworks and how these characteristics can be interpreted as political gestures by the artists. On view through September 19, 2021 in the Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building.

Permian Monsters: Life Before the Dinosaurs at the Academy of Natural Sciences

Photo by Gondwana Studios.

On view through January 17, 2022, Permian Monsters: Life Before the Dinosaurs transports visitors 290 million years into the past to a period before there were dinosaurs, offering an intimate look at fossils and full size models of the prehistoric beasts that occupied both the land and the sea of the time. The exhibit will also detail how the extinction of these massive creatures, which is believed to have been caused by global warming, prompting comparisons and discussions around climate change in the modern age. To learn more and plan your visit, click here.

Unseen at the Mütter Museum

'Unseen' is on view at the Mütter Museum from February 5 through September 30 and features photographs taken by Nikki Johnson.

On view beginning February 5 through September 30, 2021, Unseen will offer rare glimpses at the 85% of the Mütter Museum’s collection that is typically locked away in storage and not accessible to the public. Images taken by forensic photographer Nikki Johnson during a behind the scenes tour of the museum’s storage spaces and back rooms will be on view in Thomson Hall alongside specimens and other rarely-seen items. To learn more about Unseen, click here.

Crayola IDEAworks: The Creativity Exhibition at The Franklin Institute

Crayola IDEAworks: The Creativity Exhibition. Photo by K. Huff for PHLCVB.

On view through November 28, 2021, The Franklin Institute is home to the world premiere of the new Crayola IDEAworks: The Creativity Exhibition, which encourages and empowers visitors of all ages to embrace their creativity and problem-solving skills via a series of themed, interactive activities focused on land, sea, and space. The colorful exhibition uses state-of-the-art RFID technology to track each guests’ progress to create a custom experience. Tickets are available now.

BIG TIME: Life in an Endangerous Age at the Philadelphia Zoo

Big Time Life in an Endangerous Age. Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Zoo.

In 2021, the Philadelphia Zoo will transport visitors back to a time when dinosaurs and giant beasts roamed the Earth during Big Time: Life in an Endangerous Age. The immersive, multi-sensory exhibit will feature 24 life-sized animatronic dinosaurs and other creatures spread throughout the nation’s first zoo, including a 40-foot-long, 3,000-pound Tyrannosaurus Rex and a 98-foot-long Alamosaurus with a 20-foot-long swinging tail. Throughout their journey from prehistoric eras all the way to present day, guests will learn about the catastrophic events that altered life on Earth, rendering certain species extinct while others adapted, evolved, and survived. The exhibit will also feature the debut of a brand-new, dinosaur-themed Zoo Key, which will unlock special experiences throughout the zoo. Tickets can be reserved now for the exhibit, which is on view through November 1, 2021.

Strength & Fragility: The Story of the NLM at the National Liberty Museum

Peace Portal by Ulla Darni. Photo courtesy of National Liberty Museum.

On view through September 12, Strength & Fragility: The Story of the NLM highlights the life of National Liberty Museum founder, Irvin J. Borowsky, and how his belief in liberty and equality, coupled with his passion for glass art, led to the founding of the Museum in 2000. The immersive exhibition will be hosted in the museum’s Liberty Hall and will feature archival material, artwork, and soundscapes. Central to the exhibition is The Peace Portal by artist Ulla Darni — a 9-foot-tall glass canopy that projects sounds, allowing viewers to reflect on the National Liberty Museum’s founding principles. To learn more and plan a visit, click here.

Centennial Innovations and Albert M. Greenfield Makerspace at the Please Touch Museum

Peace Portal by Ulla Darni. Photo courtesy of National Liberty Museum.

Two new permanent exhibits are now on view at the Please Touch Museum in West Philadelphia. Inspired by the 1876 Centennial World’s Fair in Philadelphia — for which Memorial Hall, the home of the Please Touch Museum, was constructed — Centennial Innovations engages children throughout the space, asking them “If you could change the world… What would you create? Who would you become? What would a new world look like?” Centennial Innovations features several colorful installations and multi-sensory interactives, including a stage to share ideas and the City of Philadelphia’s historic Centennial Fairgrounds Model. The Albert M. Greenfield Makerspace is intentionally found just across from Centennial Innovations and continues children’s creative journey, exploring more of how kids are creating and empowering them as inventors. The Makerspace’s design is driven by STEM principles and features adjustable height workbenches and stools, as well as resources such as hammers, screwdrivers, drills, hot glue guns, measuring tape, and other tools that will aid in the child’s vision. To plan your visit to the Please Touch Museum, click here.

Gideon Mendel: Drowning World at the Academy of Natural Sciences

On view at the Academy of Natural Sciences from May 1 through October 17, 2021, Drowning World presents an examination of the personal and global impacts of climate change through color photographs, found-object displays, and a video 10 years in the making, all depicting major flooding events around the world. The featured work is that of award-winning photographer Gideon Mendel, who began photographing major floods in 2007 and has since documented flood zones in nations such as Haiti, Pakistan, England, and the United States, among several others. To learn more about Gideon Mendel: Drowning World, click here.

Pictured: ©GIDEON MENDEL, Georgia Winegart, San Marco neighborhood, Jacksonville, Florida,USA, September 2017. C-print, 27 ½ x 27 ½ inches. Courtesy of the artist.

Anna Russell Jones: The Art of Design at the African American Museum in Philadelphia

On view through September 12, 2021 at the African American Museum in Philadelphia (AAMP), Anna Russell Jones: The Art of Design presents a collection of original works and designs by Anna Russell Jones — the first African American graduate of the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now the Moore College of Art & Design) and an alumna of the anatomy department at what is now the Howard University College of Medicine. The intricate wallpaper designs and other rare works from AAMP’s permanent collection on view in this exhibition examine Jones’ interest in African American history and civil rights, as well as her commitment to public service and interest in medical practice. To learn more and plan your visit, click here.

Difficult Journey Home at Independence Seaport Museum

2021 marks the Centennial Anniversary of the Return of the Unknown Soldier on Cruiser Olympia, which is now docked along the Delaware River. Photo courtesy of Independence Seaport Museum.

The Independence Seaport Museum plans to commemorate the Centennial Anniversary of the Return of the Unknown Soldier on Cruiser Olympia all year with special events and ceremonies, including a new exhibition set to open onboard the historic ship on May 28. Difficult Journey Home will examine the dangerous, 15-day journey home that Cruiser Olympia — the oldest steel warship afloat in the world — endured after departing from Le Havre, France on October 25, 1921. On view through Thanksgiving weekend, the exhibition will feature 10-11 panels as well as an animation that showcases the tropical force winds and monstrous waves the boat faced on its journey to the Washington Navy Yard. To learn more and plan your visit, click here.

The Stories We Wear at the Penn Museum

Rendering of The Stories We Wear at the Penn Museum. Courtesy of the Penn Museum.

The Penn Museum is showcasing 2,500 years of style from civilizations from around the globe via a 3,700-square-foot exhibition, The Stories We Wear, on view through June 12, 2022. Through a collection of approximately 250 objects including attire, jewelry, uniforms, regalia, and tattoos, the exhibition examines the role clothing and accessories play as expressions of identity in different societies, while inviting visitors to discover common themes throughout time and in different languages and cultures. The exhibition is organized into five different themes, highlighting how people dressed for ceremonies, performances, battles, work and play, and to rule, with artifacts including a 19th century opera robe from China, a samurai sword dating back to 1603, and contemporary objects such as a full Philadelphia Eagles uniform loaned by former linebacker Connor Barwin.

Graphic Content at the National Liberty Museum

The Time is Now by Opal Seabrook is one of the pieces on view in the National Liberty Museum's Graphic Content exhibition. Photo courtesy of the National Liberty Museum.

A new exhibition at the National Liberty Museum confronts social and political issues via a collection of uncensored and unfiltered artworks. On view June 18 through November 2021, Graphic Content features the work of 36 artists from around the globe, including 27 artists from the Philadelphia area, who use a variety of creative mediums to add challenge and add commentary to issues such as systemic racism, homophobia, climate change, mental health and more. To learn more about the exhibition, click here. NOTE: Given the sensitive nature and uncensored content featured throughout the exhibition, Graphic Content may not be suitable for all ages. The National Liberty Museum will be presenting a selection of works from their past exhibition, Caretoons, to serve as companion pieces that can be enjoyed by visitors of all ages.

Ancestors returning again / this time only to themselves at the Hatfield House

Still from 'Write No History' by Black Quantum Futurism. Credit Bob Sweeney.

On view Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays through September 19, 2021, Ancestors returning again / this time only to themselves is an immersive, Afro-futuristic art installation hosted inside the historic Hatfield House in East Fairmount Park. Created by Black Quantum Futurism (BQF), the site-specific installation features a mix of audio and video elements, including the debut of BQF’s film Write No History, produced in collaboration with filmmaker Bob Sweeney and filmed on location at the Hatfield House and at other sites. The film focuses on an ancient secret society of Black scientists, healers, and writers who transport a “quantum time capsule” through time, with artifacts and found objects on display throughout the Hatfield House as part of the installation.

A Proper Send-Off at The Clay Studio

Figural Box #1 by Andrea Gill. Photo courtesy of The Clay Studio.

Set to move to a brand-new building in Kensington at the end of 2021, The Clay Studio is closing out their tenure in Old City by hosting A Proper Send-Off, the final exhibition at their space along N. 2nd Street, next to Elfreth’s Alley. On view August 28 through October 3, 2021, the exhibition consists of almost 100 unique pieces from the collections of long-term supporters of The Clay Studio, including notable works such as Open Vessel by William Daley — a former Philadelphia ceramics instructor whose work can be found in the Philadelphia Museum of Art — as well as other works by artists from around the globe. The works will be auctioned off online, with proceeds benefiting “The Clay Studio Collection” — an assemblage of works by artists who have contributed to the The Clay Studio’s nearly 50-year history, which will be on view publicly for the first time at the studio’s new location later this winter. For more information on The Clay Studio’s new location, click here. TIP: Don’t miss a special closing reception for the exhibition, Farewell to Old City, on October 2.

Spit Spreads Death: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19 in Philadelphia at the Mütter Museum

To Prevent Influenza! Illustrated Current News, New Haven, Conn., 1918. Credit: U.S. National Library of Medicine. Courtesy of the Mütter Museum.

Philadelphia had the highest death rate of any major American city during the influenza pandemic of 1918–19. A five-year exhibit, Spit Spreads Death at the Mütter Museum — dedicated to displaying fascinating discoveries about the human body with unique specimens, models and instruments — explores how neighborhoods in Philadelphia were impacted, how the disease spread, and what could happen in future pandemics. Now open.

Exhibitions opening soon:

Pool: A Social History of Segregation at Fairmount Water Works

Pool: A Social History of Segregation investigates the role of public pools in the United States with the goal of deepening understanding of the connection between water, social justice and public health. Opening September 2021 in Philadelphia, situated in the former Kelly Pool (pictured, circa 1962) in the National Historic Landmark Fairmount Water Works. Visit poolphl.com for more information.

The historic Fairmount Water Works — once the sole water pumping station for the City of Philadelphia — will reopen to the public in September featuring a new, multi-disciplinary exhibition, Pool: A Social History of Segregation (POOL). POOL will be hosted in the former John B. Kelly swimming pool found within the historic building and will explore segregated swimming in the United States and the relationship between public pools, racial discrimination, public health, and social justice. The installations and experiences featured throughout the 4,700-square-foot exhibition will be comprised of audio and video vignettes of swimming icons, activists and scholars projected onto the surface of the pool, in addition to photographs, films and other work by Philadelphia-area artists. POOL will be on view through September 2022.

NOTE: Due to the effects of Tropical Storm Ida, the Fairmount Water Works and the new exhibition POOL: A Social History of Segregation will be closed until further notice. For updates and to dive into the content online, visit PoolPhl.com.

Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Corpse and Mirror II, 1974-75, by Jasper Johns. Oil and sand on canvas (4 panels), Philadelphia Museum of Art
Corpse and Mirror II, 1974-75, by Jasper Johns. Oil and sand on canvas (4 panels), 57 5/8 x 75 1/4 in. (146.4 x 191.1 cm). Collection of the Artist. © Jasper Johns / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City will collaborate on a retrospective of the iconic artist’s career, simultaneously staging two halves of an exhibition. Originally set to open in 2020, the highly anticipated Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror exhibition will feature nearly 500 pieces spanning 70 years, including painting, sculpture, drawings, prints, books, and costumes and set design. Two exhibitions – one in Philadelphia and one in New York City – are designed to be reflections of one another and can be viewed individually or together for an immersive and innovative exploration of John’s work. On view September 29, 2021 through February 13, 2022. Tickets are available now.

Suzanne Valadon: Model, Painter, Rebel at the Barnes Foundation

Suzanne Valadon. The Utter Family, 1921. Centre Pompidou – Musée National d’Art Moderne/CCI, Paris, Donation Gift of Doctor Robert Le Masle, 1974. © 2021 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York / Photo by Jacqueline Hyde / Image © CNAC/MNAM, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY.

Opening September 26, 2021 and on view through January 9, 2022, Suzanne Valadon: Model, Painter, Rebel at the Barnes Foundation will present the first major US exhibition dedicated to groundbreaking French artist and model, Suzanne Valadon — the first self-taught woman to exhibit at the Salon de la Sociéte Nationale des Beaux-Arts. The exhibition will feature approximately 55 paintings, drawings, and prints spanning Valadon’s career, all structured around themes such as the artist’s representation of her family, conflicts of marriage and motherhood, and her exploration of the female body. Works on view include family portraits and self portraits, as well as portraits and nudes of other models, including what many view as Valadon’s finest work, The Blue Room.

Emma Amos: Color Odyssey at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

'Emma India Emma,' 2015, by Emma Amos. Photo transfer with acrylic and African fabric borders, 22 1/2 × 16 1/2 inches; framed: 24 1/2 × 29 3/4 inches. Amos Family, courtesy Ryan Lee Gallery.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art will present the first major retrospective exhibition of the prolific career of multimedia artist, educator, and activist, Emma Amos — member of the Black artist collective Spiral in the 1960s and Guerilla Girls participant in the 1980s. Emma Amos: Color Odyssey will chronicle Amos’ work from the 1960s to the 2010s, including colorful prints, paintings, and woven pieces that showcase her signature approach to combining different materials and techniques, while exploring the convergence of race and gender in American life. On view October 11, 2021 through January 17, 2022.

Liberty: Don Troiani’s Paintings of the Revolutionary War at the Museum of the American Revolution

'Brave Men as Ever Fought' by Don Troiani. Credit Don Troiani.

Opening October 16, 2021 and on view through September 5, 2022, Liberty: Don Troiani’s Paintings of the Revolutionary War will bring together over 45 paintings by renowned historical painter, Don Troiani, whose career has been dedicated to recreating scenes from the Revolutionary War by referencing sources, archaeology, artifacts and additional research. The works, which will be on public display together for the first time in the Museum of the American Revolution’s Patriots Gallery, will be paired with artifacts that either inspired or are featured in Troiani’s paintings, including weapons, textiles, and more, presenting viewers with a one-of-a-kind snapshot of key moments from the war. Key works on view include the artist’s 2017 painting of the Boston Massacre, which will be paired with a original copy of Paul Revere’s engraving of the event, as well as a new commission, Brave Men as Ever Fought, featuring a young African American sailor from Philadelphia observing Black and Native American troops in the Continental Army marching past Independence Hall (Brave Men as Ever Fought is on view at the African American Museum in Philadelphia through October 3). To learn more about the exhibition, click here.

Craftivism at the National Liberty Museum

Craftivism opens at the National Liberty Museum on November 5.

On view beginning November 5, Craftivism at the National Liberty Museum is a collection of three embroidery installations, including two by artist and activist Shannon Downey and one from the global community founded by Downey, Bad Ass Cross Stitch, comprised of women and gender non-binary individuals who share their stories through cross stitch and embroidery. The exhibition presents the artists’ embroidered ideals, values, passions and more that explore the understanding of one’s self and the value of taking positive action for yourself and others. To learn more, click here.

Harry Potter: The Exhibition at The Franklin Institute

Harry Potter: The Exhibition brings the Wizarding World to The Franklin Institute in early 2022.

The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia will host the world premiere of Harry Potter: The Exhibition in early 2022, which is promising the be “the most comprehensive touring exhibition ever presented about the Wizarding World.” The experience will invite wizards, witches and muggles of all ages to explore a collection of authentic film props and costumes along with plenty of immersive, magical experiences. Fans interested in attending the exhibition can join The Franklin Institute’s mailing list for the latest updates on tickets and for additional information.

Cover image: “5 Postcards,” 2011, by Jasper Johns. From left to right: Encaustic on canvas, 36 × 24 in. (91.4 × 61 cm); Oil on canvas, 36 × 27 in. (91.4 × 68.6 cm); Oil on canvas, 36 × 27 in. (91.4 × 68.6 cm); Oil and graphite on canvas, 36 × 27 in. (91.4 × 68.6 cm); Encaustic on canvas, 36 × 24 in. (91.4 × 61 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art: promised gift of Keith L. and Katherine Sachs. © 2021 Jasper Johns/VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

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