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Top Can’t Miss Exhibits in Philadelphia

June 11, 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.

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.

Art of Care at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

On view from September 16, 2020 through April 4, 2021 and in recognition of the healthcare workers who have been on the front lines in the battle against COVID-19, the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Art of Care exhibition will showcase how medical care has been portrayed by artists over the last century. The exhibition also marks the return of Thomas Eakins’ The Gross Clinic — one of the quintessential pieces of art to see in Philadelphia — to the museum from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, reuniting the artwork with Eakins’ other iconic medical painting, The Agnew Clinic.

Pictured: Thomas Eakins, The Gross Clinic courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Manjiro: Drifting, 1841–2020 at The Rosenbach

Manjiro: Drifting, 1841–2020 is on view through July 3, 2021. Photo courtesy of The Rosenbach.

Presented in partnership with the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia’s JapanPhilly2020 initiative, Manjiro: Drifting, 1841–2020 highlights the extraordinary life of the first Japanese person to live in the United States. On display throughout the exhibition are rare letters from Manjiro, an illustrated manuscript that displays his world travels, and more. The exhibition is on view through July 3, 2021. To learn more and to plan your visit, click here.

Between Us and Catastrophe at the Science History Institute

Photo courtesy of Science History Institute.

On view through the spring of 2021, 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. NOTE: The Science History Institute’s museum remains closed.

Only Tony: Portraits by Gilbert Lewis at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts — the first and oldest art museum and art school in the nation — is displaying a collection of 32 portraits by Philadelphia artist Gilbert Lewis, all of which focus on longtime model, Tony. With portraits spanning almost a decade, Only Tony examines the transition from young man to adult, the relationship between artist and model, and offers a queer perspective on the history of figurative art in the United States. On view in the Historic Landmark Building through September 5, 2021. The show will join concurrent Gilbert Lewis exhibitions at the Woodmere Museum or Art and William Way LGBTQ Community Center, celebrating and shining a light on Lewis’ impact within his community.

Pictured: Gilbert Lewis (b.1945), [Untitled], 1988. Gouache on paper, 16 ½ x 15 in. The Collection of Eric Rymshaw and James Fulton. Philadelphia © Gilbert Lewis

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 5, 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.

Invisible Beauty: The Art of Archaeological Science at the Penn Museum

As seen under a microscope, a basalt inclusion in a ceramic tile from the first half of 6th century BCE, from Gordion, in present-day Turkey. Photo: Brigitte Keslinke. SAM 1954-1-128.

On view through June 26, Penn Museum’s Invisible Beauty: The Art of Archaeological Science exhibition will offer a compelling look at ancient artifacts, as viewed through the scientific, cutting-edge tools of a laboratory. A series of images, enlarged photographs, x-rays, and magnetic gradiometry reveal hidden details about ancient civilizations, only adding to archaeologists’ understanding of human behavior, the environment, and other elements of the time. A one-hour virtual group tour of the exhibition is also available to book, accommodating up to 30 guests. To learn more and plan your visit, click here.

Unseen at the Mütter Museum

'Unseen' is on view at the Mutter 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 July 18, 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.

Soutine / de Kooning Conversations in Paint at the Barnes Foundation

Soutine de Kooning Conversations in Paint installation photo, 2021. Courtesy of the Barnes Foundation.

Soutine / de Kooning: Conversations in Paint will examine how the work of Lithuanian artist Chaïm Soutine influenced that of Dutch-American abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning, while also exploring the similarities shared by each artist and their respective works. Organized in partnership with the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris — where it will be on display from September 15, 2021 through January 10, 2022 — the exhibition will present approximately 45 paintings in a series of themes, including the similarities in each artist’s working practice, the merging of landscape and figure, and the regular and rapid transition between the abstract and the figurative. Soutine / de Kooning: Conversations in Paint will be on view at the Barnes Foundation from March 7 through August 8, 2021.

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 from March 29 through September 30, 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 beginning March 26, 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.

When the Please Touch Museum reopens to the public on April 22, guests will be greeted by two new permanent exhibits. 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.

New Grit: Art & Philly Now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Walls of Change, 2021, by Odili Donald Odita. Acrylic latex paint on wall, mural length 128 feet. Installation team: Alan Prazniak, Jennia Pirello, Conor Fields, Luca Bokulich. Commissioned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art with funds contributed by John Alchin and Hal Marryatt. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery. Image courtesy of the artist and Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art has unveiled new and reimagined public spaces in their landmark Main Building as part of the Frank Gehry-led Core Project, including 20,000 square feet of new exhibition space. The new, 10,000-square-foot Dietrich Galleries for modern and contemporary art are inaugurated with New Grit: Art & Philly Now, an exhibition which will celebrate Philadelphia’s art scene by featuring work from 25 artists either born in, living in, or inspired by the city. The works on view include five major new commissions that range from installation to dance. New Grit: Art & Philly Now is on view through August 22, 2021. Click here to learn more.

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.

Flags and Founding Documents, 1776-Today at the Museum of the American Revolution

A 13-star flag featuring the Great Star pattern is one of the over 40 rare flags on display in the new Flags and Founding Documents, 1776-Today exhibition at the Museum of the American Revolution. Photo by K. Huff for PHLCVB.

The Museum of the American Revolution presents a collection of over 40 rare American flags — many which have never been exhibited before — alongside early state constitutions and the first printing of the proposed U.S. Constitution of 1787 in their Flags and Founding Documents, 1776-Today exhibition, on view June 12 through September 6. Together, the dozens of flags and documents will highlight the struggles and successes faced by the young country as new states joined the Union, while tracing the evolution of the American flag throughout the country’s history. Learn more and plan your visit by clicking here.

Summer Exhibitions at The Clay Studio

The Clay Studio will showcase the work of nationally recognized ceramic artists inside their Old City gallery space during the summer of 2021. Exhibitions include Tiffany Thomas: Sprinkles and Confetti — on view June 4-27 and featuring the colorful, confectionery-inspired work of the South Carolina-based artist — and Peter Barbor: Falling Short of Heaven — featuring work that explores the story of nation’s founding through animal sculptures and scenes inspired by Edward Hicks’s Peaceable Kingdom paintings, on view July 2-August 21. Other exhibitions on view in the summer of 2021 include Carly Slade: 137 – 139 N. 2nd Street — a miniature version of The Clay Studio’s current Old City home — and Kopal Seth: Systematic Chaos. To learn more about each exhibition, click here.

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.

Cover image: Rendering of Crayola IDEAworks at The Franklin Institute.

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