I’ve been lucky enough to hit a number of museums this last year, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has been high on my list. The museum didn’t disappoint. In terms of both the museum itself and the art housed therein, Philadelphia rightly ranks as one of the best museums in the nation. The Met, Cleveland and Philadelphia rank highest on my list of visits this year.
The architecture of the museum is imposing – I could tell I was going to see something amazing as soon as I pulled up in front of the museum.
The staircase leading up from street level is monumental. Before you ask, I did not run up the stairs and jump around with my fists in the air Stallone-style, but the staircase was well-populated with tourists doing exactly that. Is it sad that the museum is better known for its appearance in a film (not commenting on the quality of the film here either) than for the treasures it houses. Welcome to our culture.
I naturally lean to the contemporary when it comes to architecture, but I can’t help myself – classic architecture impresses me. The massive stone columns, the scale of the building, the staircase, all create a sense of reverence.
I don’t mean to give an exhaustive tour of the museum – I just want to share some quick impressions and encourage you to visit when you have the opportunity, or, better, create the opportunity.
I didn’t exactly move through the museum systematically, but this might be difficult. I couldn’t discern a real systematic strategy behind the organization of the museum. One moves into the grand hallway from the entry and is presented galleries leading off in various directions. “Prints, Drawings, Photographs,” to the left, “American Art,” “European Art 1850-1900 / Modern and Contemporary Art.”
Wait a minute, “European Art 1850-1900 / Modern and Contemporary Art?” How does that make sense? Doesn’t totally, but I decided to start there. Philadelphia is noted for its impressionist collection, see photos below to understand why. Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cassatt, Cezanne, and on and on. These aren’t second-rate pieces either; the museum houses many major pieces.
After drinking from the impressionist cup I continued into the modern wing. Pollack, Motherwell, Jasper Johns, Rothko – again, amazing work. And then I ran into a gallery devoted to a ten-work series by Cy Twombly. I am going to plead Twombly ignorance – I’ve heard the name, of course, you can’t study mid-century modern art without running into him, but I had never paid him much attention. The work stopped me in my tracks.
The paintings, Fifty Days at Iliam, depict the battle between the Greeks (or the Acheans, if you prefer) and the Trojans. The paintings are minimal, little more than raw brushstrokes and text, graffiti-like in quality. If you’ve read the Illiad you will see that Twombly has captured the raw power of the narrative in these large-scale works. I must have spent twenty minutes in the gallery.
Honestly, after seeing these pieces, I moved pretty quickly through the rest of the museum. The museum houses some amazing renaissance works, medieval altar pieces, and far eastern works.
No matter your taste, you will find amazing work that will captivate and fascinate in the Philadelphia Museum. I spent about 4 hours in the museum, and I felt like I had enough time to see the best of the collection. I don’t have much endurance beyond 4 hours, but I could easily go back and revisit the museum and spend another 4 hours.
In his Amazon.com best-selling book, Xanadu Gallery owner Jason Horejs shares insights gained over a life-time in the art business.