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25 Must-See Exhibitions in Philadelphia for Spring 2017

Watercolor, frogs, dinosaurs, robots and more

This spring, Philadelphia museums come alive with exhibitions of all sorts.

From dinosaurs at The Franklin Institute and frogs at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University to watercolors at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Norman Rockwell illustrations at the Philadelphia History Museum, a diverse array of subject matters and mediums leave plenty to explore in venues citywide this season.

Read on to learn more about all of the must-see exhibitions throughout spring in Philadelphia.

Ongoing Exhibitions | Opening This Spring


Ongoing Exhibitions

Pop-Up Museum: Prison Breaking News at the Eastern State Penitentiary

Though April 17, 2017

For 10 days only, the Eastern State Penitentiary invites you to explore dozens of rarely seen artifacts in its fifth-ever museum pop up. The building’s lack of climate control keeps the old prison from showcasing the dozens of photographs, inmate-written magazines, shanks (homemade weapons) and more that it holds within its designated storage space throughout the year. Come out for this limited-time exhibition to explore the Eastern State Penitentiary's hidden treasures.

More about Pop-Up Museum: Prison Breaking News

Jurassic World: The Exhibition at The Franklin Institute

dinosaur at jurassic world

Visitors come face to face with life-like animatronic dinosaurs during Jurassic World at The Franklin Institute. (M. Fischetti for Visit Philadelphia)

Through April 23, 2017

The prehistoric denizens of Isla Nublar come roaring into The Franklin Institute with the North American premiere of the 15,000-square-foot exhibition Jurassic World. Fans of the Jurassic Park movie series can explore the mysterious island and come face-to-face with animatronic versions of the 25-foot-long Brachiosaurus, 24-foot tall T. Rex, Stegosaurus and other lumbering beasts. While the movies are fiction, the exhibition is based on true science.

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Waging Peace: 100 Years of Action at the African American Museum in Philadelphia

Waging Peace at the African American Museum looks at nonviolent protests against injustice over the last century. (J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia)

Through April 23, 2017

Taking a look at the effectiveness of nonviolence in the fight against injustice, Waging Peace: 100 Years of Action at The African American Museum In Philadelphia touches upon issues ranging from building peace to ending discrimination to addressing prison systems, immigrant rights and beyond. The display concludes with a call-to-action section, designed to inspire visitors to engage in justice work.

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XOXO: With Love, Norman Rockwell at Philadelphia History Museum

Through April 30, 2017

The Saturday Evening Post was one of the most successful mass circulation magazines in the U.S., and it was Norman Rockwell who illustrated more than 300 of its covers. In XOXO: With Love, Norman Rockwell at the Philadelphia History Museum, 42 of Rockwell's illustrations are on display that explore the themes of love and courtship. Adding to the exhibition, visitors are invited to enter a “Cover Contest” by taking their photo with a loved-one in front of a reinterpreted life-size Post cover.

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American Watercolor in the Age of Homer and Sargent at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Get a close-up look at Homer and Sargent's most influential works at a new exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (A Garden in Nassau, 1885. Winslow Homer, American, 1836 1910 | Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection)

Through May 14, 2017

American Watercolor in the Age of Homer and Sargent at the Philadelphia Museum of Art charts the rise and evolution of watercolor in America from 1860 (when it was thought of as the domain of "amateurs, women, and commercial artists") to 1925, at which point it had become a truly American art form. The exhibition focuses on the works of Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent, two of the most influential U.S. watercolor artists.

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Frogs: A Chorus of Colors at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Hang out with live frogs at a fun, interactive exhibition at the Academy of Natural Sciences. (Photo courtesy Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University)

Through May 14, 2017

Hop into a frog's world in the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University's newest exhibition Frogs: A Chorus of Colors. Find live frogs of every hoppable hue, listen to their colorful chorus and admire the many ways they swim, glide and jump around. An interactive exhibition, the display is perfect for those of all ages.

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From Homer to Hopper: Experiment and Ingenuity in American Art at the Brandywine River Museum

Explore the path of modern art by examining works from some of the greatest artists of the era in the Brandywine River Museum's latest exhibition. (Horace Pippin (1888–1946) Saying Prayers 1943 | The Brandywine River Museum of Art)

Through May 21, 2017

The Brandywine River Museum of Art's latest exhibition, From Homer to Hopper: Experiment and Ingenuity in American Art features more than 50 paintings from some of world's greatest Modern-era artists, including Georgia O’Keeffe, Horace Pippin, Maurice Prendergast and many more. Designed to trace the course of modern art, the exhibition examines the many nuances and styles found within it from the 19th to the 20th century.

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Person of the Crowd: The Contemporary Art of Flanerie at the Barnes Foundation

Person of the Crowd highlights artists who took to the streets to address issues such as racism and gentrification. (Tania Bruguera - Displacement | The Barnes Foundation)

Through May 22, 2017

A collection from 40 international artists comes together in Person of the Crowd: The Contemporary Art of Flanerie at the Barnes Foundation, examining works from those who take to the street to address contentious issues of all sorts. From guerilla campaigns plastered on every street corner to provocatively dressed artists making public spectacles of themselves, view how art has been used to expose everything from gentrification and gender politics to racism and homelessness.

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Imperfecta at the Mutter Museum

Now Open

The always fascinating Mutter Museum takes a look at teratology, the study of abnormal human development and congenital malformations, in Imperfecta. Exploring what it means to be "imperfect," the exhibition takes a look at the surrounding human perceptions, from fear and wonder to curiosity and clinical science. The early modern concept of monster is explored as is the way modern medicine has helped to prove abnormal births are not rooted in divine influence.

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Charles Sheeler: Fashion, Photography, and Sculptural Form at the Michener Art Museum

Through July 9, 2017

Recognized as one of the founding figures of American modernism for his pioneering work as a painter and a photographer, Charles Sheeler takes center stage at the Michener Art Museum this winter. On display is a body of work from Sheeler's robust career, analyzing the fashion-focused photography that he produced for Condé Nast between 1926 and 1931. Critics have dismissed this set of imagery as purely commercial, but the exhibition seeks to prove that Sheeler's work was actually crucial to his artistic development.

More about Charles Sheeler at the Michener Art Museum

American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition at the National Constitution Center

American Spirits is back at the National Constitution Center with over 100 artifacts from the Prohibition era. (Photo courtesy the National Constitution Center)

Through July 30, 2017

Back by popular demand, American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition returns to the National Constitution Center for the first time since 2012. The 5,000-square-foot display includes over 100 rare artifacts from the temperance movement, including a hatchet used by Carrie Nation, original ratification copies of the 18th and 21st amendments and a Prohibition Bureau Badge issued by the Department of Justice.

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1917: How One Year Changed the World at the National Museum of American Jewish History

This spring, browse artifacts from a groundbreaking year in U.S. history at the National Museum of American Jewish History. (National Museum of American Jewish History | 1996.51.5. Gift of Marilyn Lavin Tarr)

Through July 16, 2017

Travel back 100 years to when the world underwent major political and cultural changes that still impact us today. 1917: How One Year Changed the World at the National Museum of American Jewish History includes artifacts like an original draft of the Balfour Declaration, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis’ judicial robes and more.

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Magic in the Ancient World at the Penn Museum

Through September 4, 2017

The Penn Museum is ready to cast a fascinating learning spell on visitors at its latest exhibition, Magic in the Ancient World. Museum-goers are invited to discover how magic permeated the daily lives of ancient cultures, including those of Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome and Egypt, and to explore a presentation of objects associated with magical practices from the Penn Museum’s own collections.

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Piranha Falls at the Adventure Aquarium

Now Open

You may know the piranha for its reputation as one of the most dangerous fish in the sea, but have you ever seen one up close? The Adventure Aquarium is bringing 120 of the glittering red-bellied fish to Camden, N.J., for you to get an in-person view at its newest exhibition, Piranha Falls. Come watch the fish swim below two waterfalls and enjoy a virtual experience that'll take you deep into the Amazon.

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Curious Revolutionaries: The Peales of Philadelphia at the American Philosophical Society Museum

Though December 30, 2017

The Peale family were early American Enlightenists who created the nation’s first successful public museum, housed in Philadelphia's American Philosophical Society from 1794 to 1810. Revisiting its roots, the museum takes a look back in its latest exhibition, Curious Revolutionaries, which is broken into three major sections: "Nationhood", "The Philadelphia Museum" and "The Peale Family Legacy."

More about Curious Revolutionaries: The Peales of Philadelphia

Cultures in the Crossfire: Stories from Syria and Iraq at the Penn Museum

Though November 26, 2018

Coinciding with current events, a new exhibition at the Penn Museum examines the rich cultural heritage and achievements of Syria and Iraq as well as the movements and displacements of both people and objects caught in the crossfire. More than 50 objects from the museum’s Near East and Mediterranean collections will be on display along with a range of Arabic manuscripts from the University of Pennsylvania Libraries, cultural music and documentary film clips.

More about Cultures in the Crossfire: Stories from Syria and Iraq


Opening This Spring

Paul Chan: Pillowsophia at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

March 22 - May 28, 2017

Political and cultural activist Paul Chan spreads his art to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in a sculptural animation and poetry pairing presented in PAFA's Morris Gallery. In Paul Chan: Pillowsophia, the viewer is invited to decipher Chan's response to the 2016 presidential election and take in an artistically expressed stand against racism and discrimination.

More about Paul Chan: Pillowsophia

Philadelphia Rowing: Breaking Barriers at the Independence Seaport Museum

Learn about Philadelphia's expansive history of rowing in a new exhibition at the Independence Seaport Museum. (M. Fischetti for Visit Philadelphia)

March 31 - October 9, 2017

It's easy to spot rowers gliding along Philadelphia's Schuylkill River on any given morning, but the history of rowing in Philadelphia stretches all the way back to the 18th century. The Independence Seaport Museum seeks to explore that history in Philadelphia Rowing: Breaking Barriers. Museums visitors will also discover how innovations in the water sport have broken barriers of class, gender and race through time.

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Marcel Duchamp and the Fountain Scandal at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

April 1 - December 3, 2017

What could be coined one of the most famous (or infamous) urinals of all time, Marcel Duchamp's Fountain celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. In honor of the monumental centennial, the Philadelphia Museum of Art presents Marcel Duchamp and the Fountain Scandal, an exhibition that tells the story of the porcelain piece and its impact on modern art through period photographs, publications and other readymades from the museum's Duchamp collection.

More about Marcel Duchamp and the Fountain Scandal

Morris Arboretum in Motion: The Kinetic Sculptures of Lyman Whitaker

Opens April 1, 2017

More than 50 kinetic sculptures head to the Morris Arboretum for its latest exhibition, Morris Arboretum in Motion, featuring artworks by Lyman Whitaker. Designed to move entirely by the wind, each piece becomes a mesmerizing sight intended to make observers think about their surroundings and their own relationship to nature.

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Becoming the Detective: The Making of a Genre at the Free Library of Philadelphia

April 8 - September 1, 2017

Inside its Rare Book Department, the Free Library of Philadelphia hosts Becoming the Detective: The Making of a Genre, taking a deep dive into Edgar Allan Poe's novel of the same name and other detective-style stories. The exhibition explores story development within the genre and the integral role that the reader plays and also takes a look detective stories on stage, radio, film, television and in board games like Clue.

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Clever Criminals and Daring Detectives at the Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia

April 8 - September 1, 2017

From murder mysteries to criminal detective stories, a new exhibition at the Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia invites you to explore the literary world of this distinctive genre of books. Clever Criminals and Daring Detectives looks at both criminal and detective characters across a wide historical landscape and offers visitors the chance to test their own sleuthing skills in an interactive display.

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Myths of the Marble and Ginny Casey & Jessi Reaves at the Institute of Contemporary Art

Head to the Institute of Contemporary Art in University City for two new and exciting exhibitions this spring. (J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia)

April 28 - August 6, 2017

The Institute of Contemporary Art presents two new exhibitions this spring. Myths of the Marble explores virtual reality and the not-always-clear line between analog and digital through painting, sculpture, installations and 16mm film from artists from around the world. Ginny Casey & Jessi Reaves examines the relationship between contemporary painting and sculpture, domestic objects and decorative surfaces with more than 30 works by painter Ginny Casey and sculptor Jessi Reav.

More about Myths of the Marble and Ginny Casey and Jessi Reaves

Annual Student Exhibition at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

The annual student exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts is your chance to get a sneak peek of works from PAFA's students. (J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia)

May 12 - June 4, 2017

Each spring, students from The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) exhibit (and sell) their work to the public throughout PAFA’s galleries during the Annual Student Exhibition. Now in its 116th year(!), the exhibition is an excellent time to nab works from artists before they hit it big.

More about Annual Student Exhibition at PAFA

Revolutionary: A Pop-Up Street Art Exhibition

May 25-July 4, 2017

Revolutionary: A Pop-Up Street Art Exhibition will showcase free public artwork at 13 locations throughout Philadelphia's Historic District. Presented by VISIT PHILADELPHIA, the exhibit features a curated selection of street artists chosen by Conrad Benner, the founder and editor of street art photo-blog streetsdept.com. The featured works, created by forward-thinking artists like Kid Hazo, Michelle Angela Ortiz, Shawn Theodore and more, will be found both indoors and outdoors throughout the district and explore revolutionary themes in innovative ways.

More about Revolutionary: A Pop-Up Street Art Exhibition

John Marshall: Patriot, Statesman, Chief Justice at the National Constitution Center

May 25 - December 31, 2017

The National Constitution Center is teaming up with the John Marshall Foundation to illustrate the story of our nation's fourth Chief Justice of the United States. John Marshall: Patriot, Statesman, Chief Justice puts on display 50 artifacts from museums and historical organizations around the country to deliver the story of Marshall and the the federal judiciary he helped mold into a co-equal branch of government.

More about John Marshall: Patriot, Statesman, Chief Justice

Transparency: An LGBTQ+ Glass Art Exhibition at the National Liberty Museum

June 2 - August 6, 2017

Kicking off during LGBT Pride Month (June), the National Liberty Museum will host Transparency: An LGBTQ+ Glass Art Exhibition, the museum's first exhibition featuring studio glass. All of the works displayed are creations of glass artists within the LGBTQ community and will showcase an array of subject material, methods and styles.

More about Transparency

Backyard Adventures at the Academy of Natural Sciences

Dress up as your favorite animal and learn about how they interact with their environments at the Academy of Natural Sciences' new exhibition. (W. Klein for Visit Philadelphia)

June 9 - September 10, 2017

The backyard can bring a world of exploration, as seen in the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University's newest exhibition, Backyard Adventures, featuring a rideable "bee bike," food web pond, nectar-collecting station and more. The all-ages experience also brings opportunities to dress up like living creatures and learn about how organisms live in and interact with their environments.

More about Backyard Adventures


Past Exhibitions

Quien a buen árbol se arrima at Taller Puertoriqueño

Through March 25, 2017

Taller Puertoriqueño hosts its first single-artist exhibition, Quien a buen árbol se arrima from Philly-based artist Roxana Pérez-Mendez, in its new cultural center building. The installation features a series of hologram-based depictions of dioramic scenes placed around the gallery, with a core focus that draws on the history of the local Puerto Rican community. Combined with research from Taller Puertoriqueño's archives, the display is designed to reflect on the historical role Taller Puertoriqueño has played as a cultural center, incorporating imagery from the Spanish colonization of Puerto Rico, Taíno ritual dances and daily Puerto Rican life.

More on Quien a buen árbol se arrima

Robot Revolution at The Franklin Institute

Hang out with a collection of real robots at The Franklin Institute during Robot Revolution. (Photo courtesy Franklin Institute)

Through April 2, 2017

Think you could beat a robot in a game of tic-tac-toe? Put your skills to the test at Robot Revolution at The Franklin Institute that features a collection of robots gathered from around the world. Supported by Google.org and The Boeing Company, the interactive display explores how these fascinating machines can change how we live, work and play. Feel a therapeutic baby seal robot react to your touch, watch soccer-playing 'bots in action and more.

More on Robot Revolution

Dawoud Bey: Harlem, U.S.A. and Shawn Theodore: Church of Broken Pieces at The African American Museum in Philadelphia

Through April 2, 2017

African-American photographer Dawoud Bey takes visitors at The African American Museum in Philadelphia on a photographic journey through the history-rich neighborhood of Harlem via 25 black-and-white photographs that showcase the diversity of the neighborhood and the residents within it. Shawn Theodore: Church of Broken Pieces, another photography exhibition at the museum, creates a narrative using portraits and street photography to tell the story of a contemporary black America in flux. Looking at the successes gained, Theodore seeks to visually show the power of the African-American community.

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World War I and American Art at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Through April 9, 2017

Dominated by John Singer Sargent’s seminal work Gassed (above), the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine ArtsWorld War I and American Art is the first major museum exhibition to revisit the unprecedented global event through the eyes of more than 80 U.S. artists. More than 150 works by Georgia O’Keeffe, Horace Pippin, Man Ray and others reflect on the violence and impact of this major world war.

More on World War I and American Art




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