Welcome to Philadelphia, home of a burgeoning art scene that feels a little bit like Manhattan’s Lower East Side if the Lower East Side were still populated by enthusiastic artists squatting in vacant apartment buildings. That is, there is a sense of authenticity in Philadelphia — probably because so much remains untouched. Though the city is home to numerous museums, as well as galleries, artists’ cooperatives, and open studios, the effects of the art market (for better or for worse) have yet to spread. Most famous and traditional perhaps is the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with over 225,000 objects in its permanent collection. Exhibitions there range from the paintings of Van Gogh to English embroidery to the photographs of Lee Miller. It is, in a sense, an encyclopedic museum.
Despite the many exhibitions devoted to American History (and the reputable collection at the PMA), Philadelphia’s art scene may be better known for what it is now than for what has already happened. The Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, for example, has long been known for its controversial shows exhibiting contemporary artists, some recognized, many still relatively unknown. The Institute is an established version of what fills the galleries and collectives in much of the rest of the city. While many of these artists are profoundly talented, they have managed to exist away from the frenzy of New York, so their work and processes still feel undiscovered. This sense of newness is characteristic of Philadelphia’s art scene overall: it is still fresh enough to be cool without seeming jaded. (Gracie Linden)