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Top Can’t Miss Exhibits in Philadelphia

January 18, 2022

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:

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

'Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror' installation view. Photo by K. Huff for PHLCVB

The Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City have collaborated on a retrospective of the career of iconic American artist Jasper Johns, simultaneously staging two halves of an exhibition. The highly anticipated Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror exhibition features 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 now through February 13, 2022.

TIP: To view a video walkthrough of the exhibition led by curators Carlos Basualdo (Philadelphia Museum of Art) and Scott Rothkopf (Whitney Museum of American Art), click here.

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

'Liberty: Don Troiani’s Paintings of the Revolutionary War' at the Museum of the American Revolution. Photo by K. Huff for PHLCVB.

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 — and alum of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts — 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 an 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. To learn more about the exhibition, click here.

Invisible World of Water at the Academy of Natural Sciences

On view through May 1, 2022, Invisible World of Water at the Academy of Natural Sciences explores the hidden beauty of one of life’s most precious resources — water. Specifically, the exhibition educates visitors about two mesmerizing, microscopic natural occurrences — snow crystals and diatoms — utilizing artwork, animations, holographic light field displays, sculptures, rare books, images, videos and more. Visitors can peer through microscopes themselves to analyze these artistic phenomena, or view scanning electron microscope images from the Academy of Natural Science’s diatom collection — the second largest in the world. To learn more, click here.

Joan Semmel: Skin in the Game at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA)

Joan Semmel, Abeyance, 1986. Oil on canvas, 68 x 96 in. ©Joan Semmel/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Alexander Gray Associates/Dan Bradica.

Now on view through April 3, 2022, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) presents the first-ever retrospective of iconic painter Joan Semmel in the museum’s Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building. The exhibition features approximately 40 paintings that trace Semmel’s career through five decades, including her early abstract-expressionist works and groundbreaking feminist art, with current works placed at the beginning and ending of the exhibition — a nod to the artist’s ongoing, active career despite her work being presented as a retrospective. Divided into four main categories — erotic abstraction, the self, expressive figuration, and photography and painting — the work on view speaks to female empowerment, equal representation for women, and a woman’s power to make decisions on her own body and sexuality.

Deconstructing Bowie: Freedom in Eccentricity at the National Liberty Museum

Deconstructing Bowie: Freedom in Eccentricity. Photo by J. Ryan for PHLCVB.

Opened at the start of Philadelphia’s annual Philly Loves Bowie Week, this special exhibition celebrates the legacy of the influential, genre-defying musician, David Bowie, by displaying artwork created by multiple generations of artists who were inspired by the cultural icon. The artwork on display is be available for purchase, with portions of the proceeds benefiting the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). Deconstructing Bowie: Freedom in Eccentricity is on view through April 15, 2022.

Portals + Revelations: Richard J. Watson Beyond Realities at the African American Museum in Philadelphia

'Portals + Revelations Richard J. Watson: Beyond Realities'. Photo courtesy of African American Museum in Philadelphia.

Portals + Revelations features the work of artist and civil rights crusader Richard J. Watson, who is also a graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and serves as artist-in-residence and exhibits manager for the African American Museum in Philadelphia (AAMP). AAMP’s longest-serving staff member, Watson is known for his pastoral scenes and other works, such as a mural inside the Philadelphia’s Church of the Advocate, a mosaic at the Creative and Performing Arts High School and a portrait of former Philadelphia mayor W. Wilson Goode, which hangs within the Mayor’s Reception Room of City Hall. On view through March 6, 2022, the special exhibition at AAMP explores Watson’s artistic evolution throughout his time at the museum, with over 50 works created over the span of three decades, including paintings of landscapes and mixed media collages that serve as “visual portals,” inviting the viewer to “explore their recollections of childhood, Black history, and heroes.”

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.

Craftivism at the National Liberty Museum

Craftivism opens at the National Liberty Museum on November 5.

On view through February 6, 2022, 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.

Unseen at the Mütter Museum

'Unseen' features photographs taken by Nikki Johnson.

Unseen offers rare glimpses of 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 are on view in Thomson Hall alongside specimens and other rarely-seen items. To learn more about Unseen, click here.

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

Centennial Innovations. Photo courtesy of the Please Touch 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.

The Stories We Wear at the Penn Museum

Mang Pao (Dragon Robe) Costume of an opera singer in China during the Qing Dynasty, 19th century CE (Object 29-96-160A). Photo by E. Sucar, University of Pennsylvania Communications.

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.

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:

Harry Potter: The Exhibition at The Franklin Institute

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

Tickets are available now for the world premiere of Harry Potter: The Exhibition at The Franklin Institute, which opens February 18, 2022 and promises to 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 spellbinding surprises. The groundbreaking exhibition will span thousands of square feet and will feature 10 distinct areas, including Hogwarts castle and Hagrid’s Hut. Prior to exploring these immersive environments, guests will also be able to choose their house and wand at the beginning of the experience — decisions which will deliver a magical, personalized journey as they encounter the characters, moments, beasts and settings from the Harry Potter, Fantastic Beasts, and expanded Wizarding World franchises.

Rodin’s Hands at the Rodin Museum

'Two Hands,' modeled 1904 by Auguste Rodin, French, 1840–1917; cast 1925 by the founder Alexis Rudier (French, 1874–1952). Bronze, 18 x 20 7/8 x 12 3/4 inches (45.7 x 53 x 32.4 cm). Bequest of Jules E. Mastbaum, 1929. Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021.

On view at the Rodin Museum along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway beginning February 4, Rodin’s Hands will highlight Auguste Rodin’s mastery in conveying emotion and storytelling through the sculpting of hands. The exhibition will feature fifteen bronzes and plasters — many of which are rare or unique to the Philadelphia collection — which will join the other masterpieces on view, both inside and outside the museum, as part of one of the largest collections of the sculptor’s work outside of Paris. Rodin’s Hands will be on view through December 2023.

Tattoo: Identity Through Ink at the American Swedish Historical Museum

A new exhibition at the oldest Swedish museum at the United States will explore the last 150 years of tattooing in America, tracing how the once polarizing visual language of the skin has become more popular and commonplace in modern times. Opening February 5 and on view through May 1, 2022, Tattoo: Identity Through Ink will feature artifacts from significant American tattooers, plus interactive elements such as life-size replica arms that guests can decorate with their own unique designs. A core portion of the exhibition is dedicated to the story of Amund Dietzel, a Norwegian immigrant who received his first tattoo as a sailor at the age of 14 and would later go on to became one of the most influential tattoo artists of the 20th century.

TIP: Add more ink to your itinerary by attending the Philadelphia Tattoo Convention at the Pennsylvania Convention Center February 25-27, coinciding with the Tattoo: Identity Through Ink exhibition.

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 on World Water Day, March 22, 2022, and will feature 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.

Sean Scully: The Shape of Ideas at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Backs and Fronts, 1981, by Sean Scully. Oil on linen and canvas, 8 x 20 feet. Collection of the artist. Image courtesy of Courtesy Magonza, Arezzo. Photographer: Michele Sereni. © Sean Scully. Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Museum of Art.

This spring, the work of Sean Scully, deemed one of the leading abstract artists of our time, will be on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Opening April 11, Sean Scully: The Shape of Ideas will highlight the artist’s unique contributions to contemporary art through his signature stripes and bold experimentation with scale and composition. The exhibition has been expanded to include additional paintings throughout several galleries, totaling more than 100 of Scully’s works, dating from the early 1970s to the present. Sean Scully: The Shape of Ideas will be on view through July 31, 2022.

Wayne Thiebaud 100: Paintings, Prints, and Drawings at the Brandywine River Museum of Art

Wayne Thiebaud, Pies, Pies, Pies, 1961. Oil on canvas, 20 x 30 in. Crocker Art Museum, gift of Philip L. Ehlert in memory of Dorothy Evelyn Ehlert, 1974.12. © 2022 Wayne Thiebaud / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Photo courtesy of Brandywine River Museum of Art.

On view at the Brandywine River Museum of Art from February 6 to April 10, Wayne Thiebaud 100: Paintings, Prints, and Drawings celebrates Wayne Thiebaud’s remarkable career spanning seven decades. Thiebaud worked briefly for Walt Disney Studios and on Madison Avenue before gaining national and international recognition for his paintings of desserts in the early 1960s. This exhibition highlights Thiebaud’s full range of work depicting not only sweets, but also figures and landscapes. Initially created to honor Thiebaud’s 100th birthday, the exhibition now serves as a fitting tribute to the American artist’s remarkable career following his recent death at the age of 101 years old on December 25, 2021.

Cover image: Installation view of “Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Photo by Joseph Hu, 2021

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