Philadelphia is well-known for its performance and visual arts scene. Hundreds of galleries can be found in every corner of every neighborhood, and dozens of new exhibitions open each week. Among these destinations are the stalwarts, the canonized authorities of art in Philly—the museums with decades of history and acclaim. These are the powerhouses, the titans of well-deserved cultural prowess. These are the homes to the greatest pieces of art in the world. These are Philly’s famous art museums.
As the third-largest art museum in the country, the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) is the self-dubbed “cultural heart” of the city. Impressive holdings of Renaissance, American, Impressionist, and Modern art occupy the sprawling, Parthenon-like shrine at the seat of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Visitors can peruse world-class works by creative champions like Cezanne, Eakins, and Duchamp, as well as a collection of period rooms that showcase pieces from medieval cloisters and Indian temples. For even more entertainment, snap a picture on the famous Rocky Steps or drop in on a Friday night for cocktails, art, and live music at Art After 5.
Must-See: The Monet collection
Explore Here: 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
In the heart of Center City, visitors can find the first and oldest art museum and art school in the United States. Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) is internationally recognized for its extraordinary collections of American art and treasures. Local and national artists like Charles Willson Peale, Thomas Eakins, and Violet Oakley are just some of the impactful creators whose work is on display. Located in an extravagantly detailed and colorful 1876 building, PAFA’s home is like a work of art itself. Other features of the historic art collection are a Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington and an array of contemporary art.
Must-See: The Fox Hunt by Winslow Homer
Explore Here: 118 N. Broad Street
To see the largest collection of Auguste Rodin sculptures outside France, you’ll have to come to Philly. In the temple-like Rodin Museum, guests can explore some of the famous 19th-century sculptor’s greatest works. Bronze casts of Eternal Springtime, The Gates of Hell, and The Burghers of Calais are some of the notable, bold pieces that are highlighted. Overall, there are more than 120 sculptures in addition to drawings and paintings by the French artist.
Must-See: The Thinker
Explore Here: 2151 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) was founded in 1963 by Holmes Perkins, and has since become a preeminent venue for contemporary art. The ICA held Andy Warhol’s first-ever museum solo show in 1965, and remains committed to illuminating under-recognized or unknown artists. Prominent artists like Agnes Martin, Cy Twombly, Vija Celmins, and Laurie Anderson are just some who have been featured at the institute. Don’t miss the always adventurous contemporary exhibits on display at the ICA.
Must-See: No permanent exhibits; right now, the Cary Leibowitz Museum Show
Explore Here: 118 S. 36th Street
For even more exhibits, museums, and art examinations, check out our ultimate map to exploring art in Philadelphia.