Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cruising around the City of Brotherly Love

I spent the weekend in Philadelphia, a city I've never visited before, and had a smashing time. I didn't go into any art galleries, but just walking around was a visual feast. I also learned heaps of interesting historical tidbits, like the fact that Betsy Ross was married five times.

For $5 I was able to hop on and off the city's Phlash Trolley at touristy hotspots like the Rodin Museum (free admission), The Liberty Bell (free), and The Art Museum ($16). I didn't tour the Art Museum but hung outside with the George Washington Monument. The sculpture's wild fetishization of colonialism provoked me to study it at length. Naked Native Americans lounge around with pacified indigenous beasts while the genteel Caucasian founders of this country are represented on a higher platform. A mammoth George Washington on horse presides over them all.

Down at Penn's Landing near the Delaware River, The Irish Memorial captured my attention as it tells the story of Ireland's potato famine and the Irish emigration to the US. Lots of children were playing amongst the tombstones, and happy couples were getting their pictures taken next to it. I love memorials that people can climb on.

Masonic Temple at left, City Hall at right

Center City is quite impressive with it's regal architecture and contemporary public art.The infamous Robert Indiana Love Sculpture is to be found in this part of town. The Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons that loomed a street over piqued my curiosity but unfortunately it's closed to the public on Saturdays. They offer tours Tues-Fri.

Walking around Philadelphia one notices a lot of outdoor murals and mosaics. The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program offers tours of the murals. On South Street I came across the Magical Gardens -- a labyrinth of mosaics of mirror, glass and found objects constructed by Isaiah Zager. Other mosiacs by Zager are scattered throughout The South Side neighborhood.

The Mutter Museum College for Physicians held a bounty of scientific and medical couriosities, and it was enthralling at first to look at all the skulls, deformed skeletons and gangrene hands, but after awhile I felt a little sickened by the multitudes of misshapen babies floating around in glass jars.

As captivating as the decapitated, was the museum's visual art exhibition: Corporeal Manifestations -- the first of it's kind for the Museum and hopefully they will run more in the future. I was particularly stirred by Tip Toland's sculpture, Survivor. I imagine it to be a physical representation of the gaps one lives with psychologically/spiritually after experiencing trauma.

In the end I give Philadelphia a hearty thumb's up for it's public art and cheap stuff to do on the fly. It kind of reminded me of Savannah Georgia with all it's history, cemeteries and squares. It also reminded me oddly enough of Berlin given it's sculptures, street art, grandiose architecture, and governmental monuments.

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