12 Art Shows to See in Philadelphia This Summer

When you think of a city with a bustling art scene, Philadelphia may not immediately spring to mind. But its abundance of art schools, a growing number of art galleries, over 4,000 murals, and comparatively cheap rents make Philly a thriving art town. Many artists here are inspired by the city’s history as a center of industry and craft — hence the profusion of organizations like the Fabric Workshop and Museum, the Center for Art in Wood, and the Clay Studio. If you’re in town, take a break from our sweltering, swampy summer air and taste a bit of the artistic wonder Philadelphia has to offer.

Terence Nacne: Swarm

Installation view of Terence Nance, “Swimming In Your Skin Again” (2015) at the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania (photo by Constance Mensh, courtesy the artist and Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania)

This is the first solo museum exhibition by Terence Nance, the filmmaker behind the 2012 movie An Oversimplification of Her Beauty and HBO’s series Random Acts of Flyness. Nance is known for his captivating video collages, which are boldly experimental yet also accessible to a wide range of audiences. The exhibition title, Swarm, refers to a Brooklyn-based artist community that Nance was a part of in the early aughts where he developed a body of work that harkened back to the breakthroughs of the Black Arts Movement in the 1960s and ’70s. The exhibition is also the result of a partnership with the Philadelphia-based BlackStar Projects, home of the BlackStar Film Festival that uplifts Black, Brown, and Indigenous film artists, where Nance debuted Random Acts of Flyness in 2018. 

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Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania (icaphila.org)
118 South 36th Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Through July 9

One to the Next

Kate Sherman, “STEEPLECHASE FACE” (2022), 45 x 42 inches, oil, gesso, graphite, ink on cut canvas with button (photo Isabella Segalovich/Hyperallergic

Eight alumni of the independent art education program NYC Crit Club come together in this exhibition hosted at Pentimenti Gallery. The artists have created work in various media responding to the simple theme: “What matters the most.” The works share a common vocabulary of bold geometric lines, bright fiery colors, and dreamy inner worlds. Highlights include the lines of space-time curvature on deep blue ceramics by Kyong Kim, gouache and glitter-filled portraits by Zella Vanié, and paintings on cut-up and remixed canvases by Kate Sherman

Pentimenti Gallery (pentimenti.com)
145 North 2nd Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Through July 22

The Mashrabiya Project

Hoda Tawakol, “Mashrabiya #9” (2022) (© Museum for Art in Wood; photo by John Carlano)

This project at the Museum for Art in Wood honors the mashrabiya, a traditional wood-carved lattice screen that separates public and private life in some Islamic architectural traditions. Installed in a window along with a jar of water, the mashrabiya’s delicate patterns offer both natural ventilation and separation between women and men in religious households, among other functions. This exhibition focuses on latticework in Cairo, Egypt, which is said to have birthed the craft of woodturning three millennia ago. The show brings together contemporary women artists with Muslim cultural roots who craft bold and beautiful experiments out of wood, fabric, and glass, each inquiring into the significance and complexity of the mashrabiya today. Visitors are also invited to curl up in the exhibition’s Īwān, a cozy seating area covered in rich carpets, designed for hospitality, conversation, and contemplation.

The Museum for Art in Wood (museumforartinwood.org)
141 North 3rd Street Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Through July 23

The Body You Want

Jongbum Kim, “Haus of Bongba” (2022), recycled fabric, garments, yarns, beads, 120 x 150 x 91 inches (photo by Jason Greenberg, courtesy the Asian Arts Initiative)

Six young Asian and Asian-American artists question traditional gender norms and expression with an outburst of color, pattern, and sensuality. The front room contains furry sculptures by Jongbum Kim, entrancing video art Jason Vu, and sparkling neon collages by Eva Wu. Walk to the back of the building, and you’ll find an 18+ room that is a passionate celebration of all kinds of sexual play, including videos that feature queer, fat, and hairy bodies. This show insists on queer joy in the face of oppression and violence.

Asian Arts Initiative (asianartsinitiative.org)
1219 Vine Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Through August 5

Heather Ujiie: Lost in Paradise

Heather Ujiie, “Tree of Life,” (2023), digital inkjet print on poly-velvet, 162 x 165 inches (image courtesy James Oliver Gallery)

This solo show at the James Oliver Gallery is a riot of color and pattern. Textile artist Heather Ujiie’s latest work is inspired by a 1,000-year-old classic Iranian epic poem “Shahnameh.” Ujiie created magical plant-animal hybrids in painstakingly detailed gouache paintings, which she then manipulated digitally before printing on the massive fabric murals that cover the exhibition’s walls. The artist used this show to experiment with unconventional textile applications including the arduous process of printing on velvet; a quilt containing a three-dimensional portal; and majestic, otherworldly creatures that have grown out of piles of felt. Her blend of motifs, which draw from Iranian battle mythology and Japanese tentacle erotica, make for an unforgettable, kaleidoscopic fever dream. 

James Oliver Gallery (jamesolivergallery.com)
723 Chestnut Street 4th Floor, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Through August 12


Alex Schecter, “The Transcendent Nadir” (2022), 24 x 24 x 16 inches, drawing on paper, panel, acrylic paint, walnut, neon, artificial plant, mirrored acrylic (photo courtesy HOT•BED)

From the recent threat of contaminated water to the sudden collapse of an interstate highway, life in Philly is weirder than ever before. One floor down from the James Oliver Gallery, HOT•BED’s five-year-old exhibition space is a gallery, furniture showroom, and greenhouse. WACK! brings together 25 artists selected from an open call, all of whom made work inspired by the utter weirdness that Philadelphians have lived with since the COVID-19 pandemic. A couple of highlights include Jordan Princiotta’s “INFECTION” (2023), a plushy, furry worm taking over a ladder; Aubrey Fink’s army of little clay “Guardian” monsters (2022–23); and Alex Schecter’s mind-bending drawing of a wolf stabbed through the eye with a fluorescent bulb, entitled “The Transcendent Nadir”(2022). Philadelphia visitors are encouraged to make an appointment to stop by the gallery to get a glimpse into how “wack” it is to live in this town.

HOT•BED (hotbedphilly.com)
723 Chestnut St Floor 2, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Through August 12
Visits by appointment only

William Edmondson: A Monumental Vision

Edward Weston, “William Edmondson, Sculptor, Nashville,” (1941 negative; 1951 print) (© Edward Weston, photo by Edward Weston / © Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents; image courtesy the Barnes Foundation) 

William Edmondson of Tennessee (c. 1874–1951) said he was called upon by the divine to carve his ethereal tombstones. In 1937, he made history as the first Black artist to have a solo exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, where he soon became a favorite of the city’s elite as one of the pre-war “modern primitives” — a term that stereotyped non-White, non-wealthy, non-traditionally educated artists who were seen as an artistic version of the “idiot savant.” But in the post-war era, these “naïve” artists were considered passé, and given little attention at all, let alone exploitative exhibitions. Today, 60 of Edmondson’s works are being shown at the Barnes Foundation alongside a new performance piece by contemporary dancer and visual artist Brendan Fernandes, Returning to Before (2023). The piece, an exploration of how American art institutions have treated the labor of Black artists, will be performed in the gallery with the works themselves. 

Barnes Foundation (barnesfoundation.org)
2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Through September 10

Returning to Before will be performed at noon and 2pm, Saturdays, July 15–September 2. Tickets to the performances include access to the William Edmondson exhibition.

Joseph Stella: Visionary Nature

Joseph Stella, “The Virgin” (1926), oil on canvas, 39 11/16 x 38 3/4 inches (digital image © Brooklyn Museum; courtesy the Brandywine Museum of Art)

While Joseph Stella is best known for his Cubist- and Futurist-inflected visions of the Brooklyn Bridge, he also longed for “the blue distances of my youth in Italy.” His travels eventually took him back to his country of birth, as well as Barbados and North Africa. Coupled with frequent visits to the New York Botanical Garden, these journeys inspired Stella to paint a magical world of flora and fauna, where he discovered a spirituality that resonated with the lush aesthetics of his Catholic upbringing. The Brandywine Museum’s exhibition brings together these vibrant landscapes, trippy floral visions, and oversized Madonna figures that offer a refreshed and softer view of this 20th-century painter. 

Brandywine Museum of Art (brandywine.org)
1 Hoffmans Mill Road, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania
Through September 24

POOL: A Social History of Segregation

Installation view of Pool in 2023 (photo Isabella Segalovich/Hyperallergic)

Originally one of Philadelphia’s first water pumping stations, the Fairmount Water Works is now a free educational center for all things aquatic. Pool is a landmark exhibition that seamlessly combines new works of art and eye-opening narratives about the history of racial segregation for Black swimmers. This exhibition delves into the racial history of swimming — from colonization and slavery to the Jim Crow and Civil Rights eras — interwoven with paintings, sculptures, video, audio, and mixed-media artworks. The exhibition didactics explain that drowning is still the second most common cause of death for children under 15 nationwide, and in Pennsylvania, Black children have a 50% higher risk of drowning than White children. Black children, many of whom rely on marginally accessible and sparsely funded public pools, are far less likely to receive swimming lessons than White children. The fight for racial justice, Pool makes clear, does not stop at the water’s edge. 

The Fairmount Water Works (poolphl.com)
640 Waterworks Drive, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Through September 30

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Nothing Change, Nothing Strange

Installation view of Henry Taylor, in collaboration with the Fabric Workshop and Museum Philadelphia, Nothing Change, Nothing Strange (2023) (photo by Carlos Avendaño, courtesy artist, Hauser & Wirth, and the Fabric Workshop and Museum)

This monumental exhibition, which explores international trade and slavery through the lens of tartan, the iconic Scottish patterned cloth, is the result of Henry Taylor’s 18-month residency at the Fabric Workshop and Museum. Taylor was inspired by a 2018 documentary titled Who Put The Klan Into Ku Klux Klan, which explored the role of Scottish and Scots-Irish culture in contemporary US white nationalism. The film drew a connection between the American “Klan” and the early Scots-Irish colonizers who descended from highland “clans” — and defined themselves through distinct tartan patterns. Taylor’s work blurs the neat lines of tartan and throws the viewers into a tortuous history, the messiness of which is emphasized by using waste materials from Philadelphia’s Recycled Artist in Residency (RAIR) program. He creates new “tartans” out of bales of tires and plastic waste, stacks of fabric, and even fluorescent tube lighting. He plays with stripes in plaid to highlight how humans have separated and stratified themselves, categorizing each other through color.

The Fabric Workshop and Museum (fabricworkshopandmuseum.org)
1214 Arch Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Through October 22

The Artist’s Mother: Whistler & Philadelphia

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, “Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1: Portrait of the Artist’s Mother” (detail), (1871) (© RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY; image courtesy the Philadelphia Museum of Art) 

James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s iconic portrait of his mother has finally come home, 142 years after it was first exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The Philadelphia Museum of Art is showing the painting alongside paintings and drawings by a multi-generational group of Philadelphia artists, including Cecilia Beaux, Henry Ossawa Tanner, John Sloan, Dox Thrash, Alice Neel, and Sidney Goodman, who were inspired by Whistler to create portraits of their own mothers. Whistler himself was surprised by the popularity of his painting. He once said, “To me it is interesting as a picture of my mother, but what can or ought the public to care about the identity of the portrait?” In a similar vein, this exhibition asks: What is unique about each artist’s relationship with their mother? What can this relationship tell us about their work that we might not otherwise know?

The Philadelphia Museum of Art (philamuseum.org)
2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Through October 29


Installation view of Sit A Spell at the Colored Girls Museum (2023) (photo by Zumani Feelings, courtesy the Colored Girls Museum)

In a world of blank white walls and big, echoey galleries, the Colored Girls Museum offers an oasis of warmth and color. Founded by Philadelphia cultural leader Vashti DuBois, the museum is situated in a historic Germantown home, filled with an ever-changing, intricately curated collection of artwork, artifacts, and trinkets. A unique take on the tradition of African-American house museums, the space is known as the first museum solely dedicated to celebrating Black girlhood. Their current exhibition, Sit A Spell, welcomes eight artists into the museum’s legacy, including quilter Aliyah Bonnette, fiber artist Ellen Blalock, and painter Daphne Arthur. The third floor includes an Afro-Futurist speakeasy that is currently presenting What Black Feminists Taught Me, a collaboration between the Colored Girls Museum, Philadelphia Printworks, and the Washington DC-based organization Black Women Radicals. 

The Colored Girls Museum (thecoloredgirlsmuseum.com)
4613 Newhall Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Through December 2023
Visits by appointment only, email [email protected] for tickets 

Source: Hyperallergic.com

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