Philly’s Culture Scene Goes Global This Winter

While Philadelphia is best known as the "City of Brotherly Love," an apt alternative motto for our city would be the "City of Museums!"

Philadelphia is where some of the first museums in the United States were founded and, today, it is home to dozens of prestigious cultural institutions, which care for art and artifacts from all over the world, carry out internationally renowned research, and attract thousands of visitors from across the globe each year. This winter, museums across Philadelphia are tapping into this global status with an array of internationally inspired exhibitions.

The African American Museum in Philadelphia focuses on the harrowing international impact of an everyday material, with its powerful art exhibition "Cotton: The Soft, Dangerous Beauty of the Past." It uses the work of Philadelphia photographer, printer, and artist, John Dowell, to examine the American cotton industry and its inextricable link to the horrors of slavery and the slave trade. With 35 large-scale photographs, an installation, and an altarpiece, it meticulously documents the effects cotton has wrought on America and the world. (Photo credit: John Dowell)

Across town, the Penn Museum has just opened its renovated Middle East Galleries. The museum was originally founded in 1887 to house artifacts from the first American-led archaeological project in the region. Since then, it continues to carry out pioneering research in the Middle East. (Photo credit: Penn Museum)

The new Galleries are home to a huge variety of objects from across the region, ranging from the magnificent (the 4,500 royal headdress of a Mesopotamian queen), to the mundane (a painted plate from Iran). Together, they tell the story of life in some of the world’s oldest civilizations, and relate the stories to the present day.

The Franklin Institute also looks at ancient culture with its exhibition, "Vikings: Beyond The Legend." This new exhibit showcases more than 600 artifacts, including a 21-foot replica Viking longship. It challenges traditional, simplistic conceptions of the Vikings by examining their complex culture. Beyond their military might, the Vikings were skilled craftspeople, traders and farmers, with a huge cultural impact on Europe and beyond.

The Barnes Foundation is renowned for its extensive collection of works by male Impressionist painters, particularly Renoir, but its new exhibit, "Berthe Morisot: Woman Impressionist," puts a woman artist in the spotlight. Berthe Morisot defied social convention to become part of the avant-garde Parisian art scene. (Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons)

Morisot’s works frequently straddle the public sphere she moved in and the private sphere society expected women to occupy.

Many of her paintings depict the physical places where inside and outside meet – such as verandahs and balconies – and she created portraits both of society ladies and women domestic workers. Developing the exhibition has itself been an international effort, with the Barnes working in partnership with the Musée D’Orsay et de l’Orangerie in Paris, France and the Musée national des beaux-arts de Québec in Canada.

Last, but not least, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is bringing global glamour to our city with its latest costume exhibit, ‘Fabulous Fashion: From Dior’s New Look to Now’. With a focus on dramatic, feminine couture style, ‘Fabulous Fashion’ presents gorgeous gowns, beautiful bridal wear and elegant evening ensembles from internationally renowned design houses such as Dior, Oscar de la Renta, Balenciaga and Chanel. (Photo credit: Alice Krainock)

These pieces sit alongside homegrown haute couture, such as Philadelphia native Tina Lesser’s 1947 ‘Sea Fan Fantasy’ Evening Dress, a stunning blue ball gown embellished with hand-painted sea coral.

With such a huge range of exhibits inspired by cultures, countries and industries from across the world, Philadelphia’s museums really are going global this winter. Which one will you visit first?


Article written by Alice Krainock on behalf of Global Philadelphia Association