30 Must-See Exhibitions in Philadelphia for Fall 2017

Parkway 100, Terracotta Warriors, Monument Lab and more

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Philadelphia’s art scene is more colorful than ever this fall.

Celebrate the 100th birthday of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway (the city’s own Champs-Élysées) during Parkway 100 with special exhibitions like Cai Guo-Qiang: Fireflies, an interactive art exhibit which will send guests riding down the Parkway in beautiful, glowing pedicabs.

Additionally, the stunning new Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor brings 10 of the famed sculptures — and more than 170 related artifacts — to The Franklin Institute for a sure-to-be-blockbuster exhibit.

Other exhibitions this fall tackle political and social issues. During Monument Lab, 20 new temporary installations will be unveiled at 12 sites across the city to address one central question: “What is an appropriate monument for the city of Philadelphia?” The Penn Museum‘s Cultures in the Crossfire examines the impact of troubled times on the cultures of Iraq and Syria, while the James A. Michener Museum’s A Time to Break Silence: Pictures of Social Change revisits Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” speech.

Read on for our picks of must-see exhibitions in Philadelphia this fall.

Ongoing Exhibitions


General Washington's Headquarters Tent at the Museum of the American Revolution

George Washington's headquarters tent
The Museum of the American Revolution — Photo courtesy Museum of the American Revolution


The drama unfolds exhibit by exhibit at the brand-new Museum of the American Revolution. Just two blocks from Independence Hall — the command center for the Revolution — the newest addition to America’s most historic square mile documents the strategic wins, crushing losses and world-altering consequences of the war for We the People. Visitors learn stories of well-known and everyday people who experienced the tumult through galleries, engaging films and a collection of Revolutionary-era weapons, personal items, diaries and works of art, including General Washington’s Headquarters Tent, an iconic piece of history where the commander slept and made world-changing decisions.

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Mohamed Bourouissa: Urban Riders at the Barnes Foundation

Costumes, drawings and more from Mohamed Bourouissa's visit to Philadelphia make up this new exhibition. — Mohamed Bourouissa, Horse Day, 2015. Stills. Vidéo diptyque.13 minutes 28. © ADAGP Mohamed Bourouissa. Courtesy the artist and kamel mennour, Paris/London.

Through October 2, 2017

In 2014, internationally recognized French-Algerian artist Mohamed Bourouissa spent eight months immersed in a North Philadelphia neighborhood that’s perhaps best known for its urban cowboys. Through October 2, the Barnes Foundation hosts the artistic product of that experience with the U.S. premiere of Mohamed Bourouissa: Urban Riders, featuring more than 80 works, including costumes, drawings, video and more.

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Morris Arboretum in Motion: The Kinetic Sculptures of Lyman Whitaker

Through October 9, 2017

More than 50 kinetic sculptures have been installed at Morris Arboretum for its 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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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

Through 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. Museum visitors will also discover how innovations in the water sport have broken barriers of class, gender and race through time.

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Louis Kahn: The Power of Architecture at the Fabric Workshop and Museum

Through November 5, 2017

Two hundred models, plans, original drawings, photographs and films make up the first major retrospective of Louis Kahn’s work in 20 years during the last stop on an international tour. On display at the Fabric Workshop and Museum, the late Philadelphia architect’s major works — Roosevelt Memorial in New York; Kimbell Art Museum in Texas; and National Assembly Building in Bangladesh — demonstrate Kahn’s genius and influence, as do his early urban planning concepts and single-family houses.

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Big Bling on Kelly Drive

Artist Martin Puryear’s 40-foot-high work Big Bling is just one of more than 30 exhibitions or pieces of art on view this fall in the region. — Photo by James Ewing Photography, courtesy Association for Public Art

Through November 2017

Artist Martin Puryear’s 40-foot-high work Big Bling — made of wood and chain-link fencing with a bright gold shackle at the top — evokes a range of reactions. A first-time collaboration of the Association for Public Art and Madison Square Park Conservancy, the sculpture greets fitness enthusiasts along Kelly Drive into November 2017.

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Philadelphia Assembled

Through December 10, 2017

The Philadelphia Museum of Art and artist Jeanne van Heeswijk worked with dozens of collaborators to stage a part-artistic, part-civic engagement exhibition that examines Philadelphia’s future. After months of citywide programs and installations, the pay-what-you-wish exhibition takes form at the Perelman Building.

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Speech/Acts at the Institute of Contemporary Art

Through December 23, 2017

Also at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Speech/Acts exhibits and explores artwork influenced by black experimental poetry and the Black Arts Movement. A group show featuring six artists of the same generation, the exhibition showcases a variety of mediums — collage, drawing, text-based installation and video — and addresses the complexities of how language (and its shortcomings) has influenced this generation. In addition to the artwork, the exhibit also includes prose and poetry by Morgan Parker and Simone White, as well as an outpost for The Racial Imaginary Institute, founded by poet Claudia Rankine.

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Nathalie du Pasquier, Big Objects Not Always Silent at the Institute of Contemporary Art

Through December 23, 2017

In this exhibition hosted by the Institute of Contemporary Art, Nathalie du Pasquier uses more than 100 works to juxtapose graphic patterns with abstracted, figurative paintings. The exhibition also includes an illustrated catalog featuring an interview with du Pasquier, short essays and more.

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

— Photo by M. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia

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

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

Head to the National Constitution Center to learn about John Marshall, the nation's fourth Chief Justice of the United States. — J. Smith for Visit Philadelphia

Through December 31, 2017

The National Constitution Center has teamed 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 federal judiciary he helped mold into a co-equal branch of government.

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Inside Out throughout Philadelphia

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Through December 2017

The Philadelphia Museum of Art brings the art to your neighborhood during their Inside Out exhibition. Recreations of popular works from the museum’s collection will be on display in Brewerytown, Old City and more.

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Lisa Nilsson: Connective Tissue at the Mutter Museum

Through January 4, 2018

The complexity of human anatomy shines through Lisa Nilsson’s scientific and artistic pieces, on display at the Mütter Museum. The artist creates her detailed works with rolled and shaped paper, a technique called quilling or paper filigree that was first practiced by monks and nuns in the 16th through 18th centuries.

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Things Fall Apart at the Chemical Heritage Foundation

Through February 2, 2018

Toys lose their plasticity; damaged paintings get carefully restored and housewares that break and get fixed reveal ideas, emotions and science behind decay at the always-free Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia’s Historic District. An app-guided neighborhood walking tour and decay-themed works from local artists round out the exhibit.

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A Time to Break Silence: Pictures of Social Change at the James A. Michener Art Museum

This fall, the James A. Michener Art Museum revisits Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Beyond Vietnam" speech with a photography exhibition. — Photo courtesy of James A. Michener Art Museum

Through February 4, 2018

Photographs document protest and political and social change; they also shape our view of our current and historic culture. Bucks County’s James A. Michener Art Museum stages this display of images in recognition of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s controversial speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” in which the civil rights leader called for military spending in Vietnam to be redirected to ending poverty.

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

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Though November 26, 2018

The Penn Museum explores the rich cultures, diverse populations and deep history of one of the world’s most turbulent regions in Cultures in the Crossfire: Stories from Syria and Iraq. Modern works by Syrian-born artist Issam Kourbaj stand next to ancient artifacts; together, they tell stories of everyday life and global contributions, upheavals and peace, despair and hope.

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

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Parkway 100 Exhibitions


Cai Guo-Qiang: Fireflies on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway

More than 20 pedicabs decorated with beautiful lanterns will take guests for a ride up and down the Parkway this fall. — Photo courtesy of the Association for Public Art

September 15 – October 8, 2017

The Association for Public Art enlisted lauded artist Cai Guo-Qiang to create Fireflies, an incredible experience on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. For four hours each night, people can board 27 pedal-powered vehicles (think pedicabs) adorned with lanterns to ride up and down the street. Meanwhile, those outside witness a dreamy wonderland.

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Corridors of Culture: 100 Years of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway at the Parkway Central Library of the Free Library of Philadelphia

Celebrate 100 years of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway by learning about its history at a special exhibit at the Parkway Central Library. — B. Krist for Visit Philadelphia

September 16 – December 9, 2017

At the Parkway Central Library of the Free Library of Philadelphia, photographs and artwork illustrate the creation and use of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway over the last century, and even more artifacts explore how art, faith, science and community reside together on the grand corridor.

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Winter Fountains along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway

— Jennifer Steinkamp, courtesy Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong, Greengrassi, London.

November 30, 2017 – March 18, 2018

Artist Jennifer Steinkamp created Parkway 100’s centerpiece exhibition, which lights the boulevard at night this winter. Inspired by the Parkway’s fountains and horticulture, dramatic video scenes project onto four large domes measuring 13 feet high and 26 feet wide. The Association for Public Art commissioned the outdoor art display.

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Center Square to Civic Treasure: Philadelphia’s City Hall and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway

December 1, 2017 – January 26, 2018

City Hall represents Philadelphia’s political center, and it stands as an artistic marvel and symbolic icon. The City of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy and the Athenaeum of Philadelphia stage an exhibition that presents the history and design of City Hall and explores its role as a government building, the city’s largest work of art and the iconic anchor to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The display includes photographs, postcards, drawings, manuscripts and other artifacts.

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Opening This Fall


Monument Lab Installations

A curated selection of 20 artists from across the world, including 11 from Philadelphia, crafted the artwork that makes up Monument Lab. — Photo courtesy Monument Lab

September 15 – November 19, 2017

For nine weeks, temporary Philadelphia monuments by more than 20 local and international artists pop up in public spaces all around the city. These free exhibits aim to challenge viewers to think about representations of our history, memory and future. Organized by Mural Arts Philadelphia, Monument Lab includes interactive laboratories to encourage conversation and a hub at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, which displays public monument proposals generated during the run.

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Time’s Funeral: Drawings & Poems by Justin Duerr at Philadelphia's Magic Gardens

Check out Justin Duerr's colorful works at the Philadelphia Magic Gardens this fall. — R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia

September 15 – November 12, 2017

Artist Justin Duerr covers the galleries of Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens with fantastical roll paper-and-Sharpie drawings. The otherworldly depictions pair well with the fascinating mosaic space.

More about Time’s Funeral

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Fall Exhibitions at Moore College of Art & Design

September 16 – December 9, 2017

The country’s first and only visual arts college for women presents a lineup of thought-provoking exhibitions this fall, all for a joy-provoking $0 cost. Sculpture and photographs make up Visionary Women: Ursula Von Rydingsvard & Andrea Baldeck. The show Narrative Horizons features work influenced by functional craft and the handmade. Nick Lenker: Recreation, The First Person explores the idea of identity in digital and virtual worlds. The human body is both an inspiration and a tool for the performances, workshops and projects of Bodyworks.

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Centuries of Childhood: An American Story at the Mercer Museum

September 16 – December 31, 2017

Bring the whole family to the Mercer Museum for this exhibition that allows children to connect with American history through the eyes of five historical families. Learn what it was like to live in the Great Lakes region in the 1700s, or follow along with a family headed West in the 1840s. Kids will also have a chance to participate in interactive play areas which include exploring immigrant ships, preparing meals in a Native American longhouse and more.

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Tiny Titans: Dinosaur Eggs and Babies at the Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University

Play paleontologist and explore dinosaur eggs, embryos and more this fall at the Academy of Natural Sciences' new exhibition. — Photo courtesy the Academy of Natural Sciences

September 30, 2017 – January 15, 2018

Have you ever seen real dinosaur eggs? Here’s your chance. Touch dinosaur fossils, find dino embryos and more at the Academy of Natural Science‘s newest exhibit. Tiny Titans features dinosaur finds from around the world, including samples from major plant- and meat-eating dinosaurs.

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A Grand Vision: Violet Oakley and the American Renaissance at the Woodmere Art Museum

September 30, 2017 – January 21, 2018

American Renaissance luminary Violet Oakley contributed to Pennsylvania’s and the nation’s artistic expressions over her 50-year career. On display at the Woodmere Art Museum, the first showcase of her work in three decades focuses on her public commissions: designs for her murals, stained glass and portraits displayed in civic buildings, churches and schools.

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Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood: A Grr-ific Exhibit at the Please Touch Museum

September 30, 2017 – January 15, 2018

The award-winning PBS KIDS television series comes to life in this exhibit at the Please Touch Museum, where kids can sing, pretend and explore some of Daniel’s favorite places while learning Fred Rogers’ life lessons.

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Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor at The Franklin Institute

Boy looking at the Terracotta Warriors exhibition at The Franklin Institute
— Photo courtesy The Franklin Institute

September 30, 2017 – March 4, 2018

In 1974, a farmer digging a well in China struck one of history’s most significant archaeological discoveries: thousands of life-sized warrior sculptures that had been guarding the tomb of China’s first emperor since 210 B.C. Ten of the mysterious structures and 170 related artifacts, including weapons, jade and gold ornaments and ceremonial vessels, travel to The Franklin Institute for an exhibition that examines the story, craft and science behind the terracotta army. Philadelphia is one of just two cities hosting the exhibit.

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Gardens of the Mind at the African American Museum in Philadelphia

October 5, 2017 – January 16, 2018

In Gardens of the Mind, five black women artists in varying stages of their careers (Barbara Bullock, E.J. Montgomery, Glynnis Reed, Martha Jackson-Jarvis and Joiri Minaya) explore spiritual cultivation and memory through large-scale installation, sculpture, painting and printmaking at the African American Museum of Philadelphia.

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Chuck Close Photographs at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

October 6, 2017 – April 8, 2018

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts features 90 images from this eminent American artist’s career, the first-such comprehensive survey of Close’s barrier-breaking photography. The exhibition spans 1964 through today and includes the artist’s iconic black-and-white maquettes, massive composite Polaroids, small daguerreotypes and recent nudes.

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Dylan Gauthier: Highwatermarks at Brandywine River Museum of Art

Dylan Gautier presents an immersive audio and visual experience during his exhibition at the Brandywine River Museum of Art. — above

October 7, 2017 – January 7, 2018

Dylan Gautier’s first solo exhibition, created completely during his residency at the Brandywine River Museum of Art, features four-channel video and audio installations that narrate a single drop of water’s journey through the course of the Brandywine River and local communities. In the exhibition, Gautier uses digital media and sculpture to examine relationships between nature, the environment and society.

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Old Masters Now: Rediscovering the John G. Johnson Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Exterior of Philadelphia Museum of Art
— Photo courtesy the Philadelphia Museum of Art

November 3, 2017 – February 19, 2018

Described by The New York Times as “the greatest lawyer in the English-speaking world,” John G. Johnson bequeathed his 1,500 European artworks to Philadelphia in 1917. This Philadelphia Museum of Art exhibit focuses on the amazing collection and its collector, who lived during a time when Philadelphia was a manufacturing and financial leader. Visitors to the museum see familiar names, including Botticelli, Bosch, Titian, Rembrandt and Monet.

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Graphic Women at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

November 16, 2017 – February 18, 2018

More than 30 charcoals, pastels, illustrations and watercolors usually not displayed because of their delicate nature comprise this exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Presented in conjunction with A Grand Vision at the Woodmere (see above), the rare display features the works of female Philadelphia artists Violet Oakley, her teacher Cecilia Beaux and their contemporaries Mary Cassatt, Susan MacDowell Eakins and others.

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Kiefer Rodin at the Barnes Foundation

The Cathedrals of France (Auguste Rodin les Cathédrales de France) painting from Anselm Kiefer
— Anselm Kiefer. The Cathedrals of France (Auguste Rodin les Cathédrales de France), 2016. Photo: Georges Poncet. © Anselm Kiefer

November 17, 2017 – March 12, 2018

That Auguste Rodin’s work stands the test of time is clearly evident in this Barnes Foundation exhibition. Rodin’s sculptures and drawings display alongside contemporary artist Anselm Kiefer’s new, large-scale illustrated books, sculptures and paintings — all inspired by Rodin’s work. Presented in collaboration with the Musée Rodin in Paris, the showcase is part of #Rodin100, marking 100 years since the artist’s death (November 17, 1917) with exhibits and programming at major art museums.

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Power of Protest: The Movement to Free Soviet Jews at the National Museum of American Jewish History

Opens December 2017

This December, get a rare look at the personal stories of American Jewish activists and Soviet Jews — called resufesniks — at this traveling exhibition by the National Museum of American Jewish History.

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