Philadelphia is a city that buzzes with creativity, and the visual arts are one of its proudest enterprises. Storied galleries, powerful murals, and lofty public statues seem to be around every corner in every neighborhood. So, how can one peron see it all?
If you’re looking to fill a day (or two) with Philadelphia’s most impressive artwork, follow us. We can’t promise that you’ll get everywhere; but we can promise that our guide will take you to see some of Philadelphia’s best art. Beginning at the Benjamin Franklin Parkway—the city’s cradle of art and science education—and winding through Center City, we’ll take you on a route that features world class museums, galleries, exhibits, and public art. You can mix and match various legs of the path, or get up early and complete the whole route from start to finish (which is five miles of walking, excluding steps around the museums and galleries). Either way, bring your camera—there’s going to be a lot to see.
THE FIRST LEG: ICONS OF THE PARKWAY
There’s no better place to begin than at one of the city’s most recognizable institutions, the Philadelphia Museum of Art (or PMA). Impressive, major holdings of Renaissance, American, Impressionist, and Modern art make the PMA the third-largest art museum in the United States. Visitors can peruse prominent works by Cézanne, Eakins, and Duchamp, or examine sculptures, prints, and armor from Europe, America, and Asia. The Perelman Building, located across from the PMA’s main building, also holds costumes, textiles, photographs, and contemporary designs. For added entertainment, stop by on Friday for an evening of cocktails, art, and music at Art After 5. And don’t forget to check out the prodigious Washington Monument and Rocky Statue outside of the museum.
Once you’ve left the grandeur of the PMA, make your way down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Treasures await at both the Rodin Museum and Barnes Foundation, about ten minutes from the PMA. The Rodin features over 140 bronze, marble, and plaster creations from every phase of Auguste Rodin’s career—including Philly’s very own The Thinker statue. The Barnes, contrastingly, is home to one of the world’s most extensive collections of French Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings. There’s also an impressive array of early Modern paintings and African sculpture.
Image via Kevin Harber
Continue down to the majestic Logan Square, where you can explore a bevy of public art, including the Shakespeare Memorial, the stunning gold Aero Memorial, and the Swann Memorial Fountain. After you’ve had your fun outside, head indoors to the Moore College of Art and Design at Race and North 20th streets. The galleries, which house exploratory and experimental contemporary pieces, is free and open to the public.
From Moore, head two blocks south on North 20th Street until you reach Arch Street. Look to the left and you’ll see Reach High and You Will Go Far mural by Josh Sarantitis.
Long Route: Before you make your way down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, take a stroll over to the nearby Spring Garden Bridge mural by Betsy Casañas that features over 6,000 colorful tulips. Loop back around behind the PMA to check out:
Lines in Four Directions in Flowers, a beautiful terrace of flowers behind the museum
Joan of Arc, a gilded bronze statue on Kelly Drive at 25th Street
Symbiosis, a stunning, 34-foot-tall, stainless steel structure that evokes “arboreal structures, vascular systems, synaptic networks, and industrial pipelines.”
SECOND LEG: STORIES OF THREAD, STORIES OF PAINT
After your first mural stop, head east on Arch Street. When you reach the corner of 15th Street, look up and to the left—you’ll see the Freedom mural by Peter Pagast. Keep walking down Arch Street, passed City Hall until you reach The Fabric Workshop & Museum at 1214 Arch. This non-profit arts organization is unlike any other in the world; the workshop is dedicated to creating art with new, innovative materials and media through collaborations with a variety of artists. A permanent collection gives the public access to works by emerging creators and more renowned ones like Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, Louise Bourgeois, and Carrie Mae Weems.
Once you’ve explored the fabric workshop, you can turn around and head back towards Broad Street. Turn right onto Broad and walk one and a half blocks to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (or PAFA). Founded in 1805, PAFA is the United States’ first and oldest art museum and school. It also boasts a vast collection of American art and treasures by local and national luminaries; works by Eakins, Oakley, Hopper, and Beaux are just a few of the jewels in the galleries. For more contemporary art, head to the soaringly spacious Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building.
Image via Peter Miller
Before you leave the area, take the opportunity to check out some of the murals that are in the neighborhood:
Independence Starts Here by Donald Gensler (Broad & Race Streets)
The Stamp of Incarceration: Amira Mohamed by Shepard Fairey (Race & North 15th Streets)
How to Turn Anything into Something Else (207 N. Broad Street)
Start from Here by Isaac Tin Wei Lin (1315 Race Street)
Gateway to Chinatown: Colors of Light by Josh Sarantitis (247 N. 12th Street)
Long Route: If you don’t mind walking 15 minutes further north, the iconic, metaphorical Common Threads mural by Meg Saligman towers over Broad and Spring Garden Streets.
To check out the spectacular David McShane Jackie Robinson mural at 2803 North Broad Street, hop on the Broad Street Subway Line at the Race-Vine Station (Broad & Vine Streets) and take it 15 minutes to the North Philadelphia Station.
THIRD LEG: STEEL, BRONZE, & GLASS
When you’re done near PAFA, continue to walk south on Broad Street towards City Hall where an abundance of public art can be found. As you make your way around the historic, architecturally stunning building onto North 15th Street, here are a few of the public statues and exhibits you should take in:
Your Move – Giant-sized checker pieces, chess pieces, dominoes, bingo chips, and board game pieces are scattered about the plaza outside the Philadelphia Municipal Services Building.
Government of the People – Located in the aforementioned plaza, this towering bronze statue is an inverted pyramid of people, a “totem-like arrangement” of bodies building themselves up together.
LOVE Statue – Although the iconic Philly landmark has been in restoration since earlier this year, the Robert Indiana piece is set to return to LOVE Park in early 2018.
Clothespin – Little explanation is needed here—who doesn’t like a giant version of a mundane item? Milord la Chamarre – This twisting, whimsical stainless steel statue is 24 feet tall and locally referred to as “The Mummer” due to its resemblance to a Philly mummer costume.
Triune – This free-curving bronze statue weighs nearly 28,000 pounds, and is passed by thousands of commuters and tourists every day.
All of these pieces can be seen on a short, 10 minute walk. When you’re ready to move on, embark on a 15 minute jaunt south down Broad Street. Alternatively, if you feel like giving your legs a break, get on the Broad Street Line subway from the Philadelphia City Hall station. Get off in two stops at the Lombard South Station (about two minutes away). Our next destination is the Legendary mural by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. Turn right onto South Street, and walk a short distance until you see a parking lot on your right. Look up and to your right, and take in the kaleidoscopic homage to hip hop trailblazers, cultural icons, and The Roots.
Image via angela n
From Legendary, turn around and walk five blocks east on South Street. On your right, you’ll find the Philadelphia Magic Gardens. The year-round mosaic oasis is a non-profit museum and gallery space housing the innovative art of Isaiah Zagar. The half-block-long museum includes an outdoor art installation and indoor galleries, all featuring nontraditional materials like bicycle wheels, glass bottles, colorful handmade tiles, and shimmering mirrors. The painted tiles an glittering glass shards blend into a swirling trove of images and narratives waiting to be explored. In short, the Magic Gardens contain art quite unlike anything else in the city.
Long Route: Instead of getting on the subway at City Hall or walking down Broad Street, walk south on North 13th Street and check out a plethora of well-known murals, including Sanctuary by James Burns (13th & Chancellor Streets), Philadelphia Muses by Meg Saligman (13th & Locust Streets), and the homage to those named Frank, Famous Franks by David McShane (Dirty Frank’s, 13th & Pine Streets). This walk will take about 10 minutes from City Hall, and is an eight minute walk from the Philadelphia Magic Gardens. You can also drop in to the free gallery at the Philadelphia Sketch Club, which has been a space for creators since 1860. The gallery is right around the corner from the Independent Hotel.
If you’re still looking for more after our extensive art trail, put these spots on your list:
- Institute for Contemporary Art, 118 S. 36th Street
- The Center for Art in Wood, 141 N. 3rd Street
- Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art, 615 N. Broad Street
- Philadelphia Art Alliance, 215 S. 18th Street
Enjoy easy access to all of the art there is to see around the city with 50% off parking by booking The Independent’s Park & Stay special.