Home to the iconic pop-art LOVE sculpture and the famous cheesesteak, Philadelphia is a classic American city, with a contemporary art and culture scene as diverse as its people. From the iconic bronze sculpture of Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky in a victory pose to the ever-powerful symbol of the abolition of slavery, the Liberty Bell, and street graffiti celebrating queer pride in the ‘City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection’, Philadephia is full of monuments — old and new — that speak to its rich cultural legacy. This carries on today, with art lovers flocking to renowned institutions, galleries and independently-run art venues giving platform to the city’s artists and creatives. For those planning to visit, or simply looking to be inspired, we highlight some of its most special outdoor art, museum collections and interactive art spaces — a guaranteed way to fall in love with the city.
Find iconic outdoor art all around town
An iconic landmark, the LOVE sculpture by American pop artist Robert Indiana is one of the most photographed sites in Philadelphia
Any art and culture tour of Philadelphia has to begin with its public murals and sculptures that tell the stories of the city, from its thriving musical scene to its proud immigrant culture and queer history, made for and by its people.
Start with a tour with Mural Arts Philadelphia — the largest public art organisation in the US who lead curated city-wide walks — and discover the range of its larger-than-life street art. As you walk, notice murals immortalising Philadelphia’s musical icons like John Coltrane and Tariq Trotter made by local artists like Ernel Martinez and Roberto Lugo, and keep an eye out for the brightly coloured and distinctly South-Asian flavoured walls by the Southeast by Southeast project, dedicated to the Nepali, Bhutanese and Burmese immigrants in South Philadelphia.
Get lost in ancient and classical art
The first art museum to be founded in the United States, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts celebrates classical and modern art at its best
A must-visit for history buffs, the Penn Museum stands next to the famous University of Pennsylvania, with a tranquil Koi pond at its entrance and more than a million archeological and anthropological artefacts from all over the world inside — from Persian manuscripts to Javanese puppets. Of particular interest may be the ancient statuettes from Gandhara and exquisite brass weaponry from Tibet in the Museum’s impressive Asian collection.
Just across the Schuylkill River, make time for a visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art as well, which in addition to its world renowned collection of Western art, houses one of the most extensive collections of South Asian art in the United States. The definite highlight here is the amazing reconstruction of a 16th century South Indian temple with massive relief pillars from Madurai, in addition to the more than 4000 objects from across South Asia, including sandstone sculptures from Khajuraho, Kantha textiles from Bengal and painted manuscripts from Nepal.
Explore exciting modernists and contemporaries
A hub of the latest in Philadelphia’s contemporary art scene, the Institute of Contemporary Art will leave you spellbound with its one-of-a-kind exhibitions
Philadelphia is a hub for artists and creatives, filled with venues dedicated to the art and artists of today. The historic Crane Arts building, in the North East of the city, is one such space and hosts a number of art galleries including the interdisciplinary art space Icebox, artist-run cooperative Tiger Strikes Asteroid, and the photography focused TILT Institute for the Contemporary Image.
Just South and next to Chinatown, visit the Vox Populi Gallery to find works by the experimental art space’s risk-taking roster of artists, including many diasporic and artists-of-colour. Close by, remind yourself of the irresistible power of painting at the Barnes Foundation, one of the best collections of modern European works including those by Paul Cézanne, Henri Mattise and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. And continue your journey of European art, at the Rodin Museum, next door, with one of the most recognisable modern sculptures in the world, The Thinker, sitting at the entrance, leading into a stunning collection of the iconic sculptor’s masterpieces.
Lastly, no tour of Philadelphia’s art scene would be complete without a visit to the Institute of Contemporary Art, hosting some of the most thoughtfully curated shows of international artists like Cecilia Vicuña and Ulysses Jenkins, as well as a stellar bookstore.
Make art your playground
There’s no better place to check out the city’s alternative art scene than the mosaicked Magic Gardens
Art need not be all that serious, and for hands-on and fun creative experiences, check out some of Philadelphia’s many themed exhibition spaces, community art centres and bookstores. Have a picnic with the family at Philadelphia Magic Gardens in the South of the city, a wonderland of folk art and mosaics with an outdoor sculpture garden.
In the fashion district of Philadelphia, attend a workshop at the The Fabric Workshop and Museum and take a gram-able picture at the interactive art venue, Wonderspaces. Finally, zine and book lovers cannot miss visits to Philly soapbox, a printmaking workshop with an extensive library of handmade books, and Ulises, a haven for independent artist books.
There is all this and more to discover in Philadelphia for any art and culture lover. Find out more on Discover Philadelphia.