Philadelphia invites you to explore the city as you take in some of the city’s most creative and beloved art landmarks.
Discover Art Around the City
A welcome change to counter quarantine-inspired Zoom and virtual reality tours, artists and organizations have found new ways to move you out of your home and onto the streets (or into the air) to view their beautiful creations.
Try an Audio Tour
With the Museums Without Walls AUDIO tour of public art throughout Philadelphia, sponsored by the Association for Public Art, you use your smartphone to wander the city as you learn about the more than 75 sculptures on the streets. Just as you might do with an audio tour inside the Philadelphia Museum of Art or the Barnes Foundation, this tour lets you tune in on your own… but outside. Narration is by a variety of people from all walks of life, each person explaining the story behind the artwork and their connection to it.
Start with Love
A sample meander might be to start at the famous LOVE Sculpture near City Hall in LOVE Park. Designed in 1976 by Robert Indiana, LOVE is a massive four-letter red piece, with an iconic tilting O and clashing green interior and blue-sky exterior. The sculpture is part of Indiana’s LOVE Project that incorporates more than just sculptures. Starting with a poem some 20 years before the Philadelphia installation, Indiana also gave birth to LOVE sculptures around the world, translated into many languages. A second sculpture, AMOR, recognizes the Hispanic population in Philadelphia and is located a short walk from LOVE Park in Sister Cities Park.
Rediscover a Returning Favorite
A fun stop on the tour is a Fairhill Square visit to view Rafael Ferrer’s El Gran Teatro de la Luna. Repainted and reinstalled after a 14-year absence, the sculpture evokes a range of emotions with the colorful acrobats and performers moving blissfully yet frenetically. The action-filled tableau is set atop a pergola framing an outdoor stage in the park and is a source of pride to nearby residents, many of whom feel a connection to the artist’s Caribbean upbringing.
Add a Touch of Magic
If your sojourn takes you near South Street, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens are a true surprise. You might think you’ve landed in Gaudi-crazy Barcelona. But, instead, this garden, completely covered by mosaics made of glass, mirrors, bicycle wheels, bottles and tiles started off as an effort to beautify the walls, buildings and vacant lots of South Street by artist Isaiah Zagar. When developers threatened to dismantle Zagar’s “artworks,” residents fought back. As a result, the space remains to this day as a non-profit organization, allowing Zagar to continue to excavate and create, and is visited by those “in the know.” Choose to spend some socially distanced time in the indoor galleries, or just stay outdoors in the enchanting magic garden.
Hop on the Mural Train
One of the most recent art tours in Philly takes you to the air, so to speak. Best viewed when riding the EL from 45th to 63rd streets along the Market Street corridor in West Philly, graffiti artist Steve Powers presents a series of 50 provocative art murals and sayings spray-painted on buildings and roofs in a program designed to beautify the city. The program, A Love Letter for You Murals, collectively expresses a love letter from a guy to a girl, from an artist to his hometown, and from local residents to their neighborhood of West Philadelphia. The program has been such a hit since its launch on Valentine’s Day that commuters compare notes on where to find their favorite murals. Look for ones that say “If You Were Here, I’d Be Home Now,” or “Open Your Eyes, I See the Sunrise,” for example.
A second airborne exhibit, Nancy Baker Cahill’s augmented reality “Liberty Bell” incorporates the use of your smartphone or tablet and the 4th Wall app to view a moving, tolling amorphous and often dissonant Liberty Bell, inspired by the actual one found in Philadelphia. Particularly relevant in today’s confusing world, the art piece seeks to remind viewers about the challenges faced in obtaining and maintaining freedom. This exhibit is part of a six-city concurrent program including New York, Charleston, Selma, Washington DC and Boston. The installation is on view on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.