In case you’re wondering why I don’t post photos from my trips here, the answer is simple. I have a cheap cell phone camera, and you can find much better photos than I could possibly take simply by using your favorite image search device. And why do you need to see photos of my hotel room anyway? (grin)
In Philadelphia, all the historical sites and museums seem to be on the east side of town. The main art and science museums are on the west, clustered around the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the city’s “grand boulevard”. In this post, let’s take a look at some of those.
Most major cities have a “must see” museum – not one that’s huge and world-famous, but one with a quirky theme that is like nothing else in the world. In New York City, for example, it’s the Museum of Sex. Philadelphia has the Mütter Museum.
The heart (and spine and liver and colon) of the Mutter Museum is its collection of medical specimens. Dry mounted bones and skulls, preserved organs in liquid-filled jars, wax models that were used for instructional purposes…. It’s all quite creepy, and even disturbing. Don’t worry; if you don’t have the stomach for it, they do.
Side exhibits while I was there covered “monstrous births” in the Renaissance, medical conditions analogous to things mentioned in Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and a gallery of the works of Lisa Nilsson. In her “Tissue Series“, she uses the technique of “quilling” (rolling up thin strips of colored paper) to recreate anatomical cross-sections. It’s fascinatingly creepy, and creepily fascinating.
Actually within sight of the Parkway (on Logan Square) is the Franklin Institute. It’s a science museum for kids. This means that there are plenty of interactive exhibits on simple concepts. It also means there are lots of kids running around playing with the exhibits and making as much noise with them as they can, and not actually learning anything.
The special exhibit, “A Mirror Maze: Numbers in Nature”, was almost cool. It looked at things like proportions and the Golden Ratio, fractals, and Voronoi cells. I may have just ran through it too quickly (or was distracted by all the kids dashing around), but I didn’t find it particularly informative. There was a lot of stuff on patterns, but not much on the numbers and formulae underlying them.
Well, the show “Beautiful Planet” at their IMAX theater made up for all that. The trailer doesn’t do it justice.
The big one, the “keystone” if you will of the Parkway’s “Museum Row”, is the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Thanks to Sylvester Stallone, you’ll likely see several people doing a workout as they run up the steps like Rocky. There’s even a statue of Stallone as Rocky in a nice shaded grove off to the side at the bottom of the steps (Nothing about Chuck Wepner as far as I could tell). Be ready to wait in line if you want to take a photo with it.
Once you make your way up the steps (there’s a ground level entrance on the other side if you need it and know about it), the museum is impressively vast. It’s a huge collection of rooms and galleries. Kind of like an office building. “Oh, Mr. Gaugin? He’s in Room 217. Come out of the elevator, go to your left, and it’s the fourth room on your right.” It’s good if you’re looking for a specific item, but when you’re just exploring, it’s too easy to get lost. I wound up holding the museum map in front of me and turning it in the opposite direction from my turns, so that it stayed oriented to the museum itself.
The museum’s strength seems to be in contemporary art. An entire wing (roughly one eighth of the entire place) is devoted to it. My favorites there were “The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths” by Bruce Nauman – which literally says its name in neon, “Flexible Wood Ladder” by Daniel Dezeuze – because when you stand in the right spot in front of it the Hermann Grid Illusion kicks in, and “Fifty Days at Iliam” by Cy Twombly.
If you’ve ever gone over the Iliad in school, you know the opening lines:
Sing, O Muse, of the Anger of Achilles, son of Peleas,
And the aggravation he gave the Achaeans.
Indeed, “anger” permeates the tale. Achilles angry hissy fit at the beginning, his fight with Hector, his berserker-like attack…. Twombly’s work is ten huge panels that are a visual representation of that anger. Bold red and black splashes and scrawls, jagged letters. It’s like Twombly attacked the canvas instead of simply painting on it.
Had a brief chat with the staffer there about modern art. Sure, it looks like something anyone could do. But you didn’t do it, did you. Twombly beat you to it! And how do you know how much energy and effort he expended on getting what was in his mind onto the canvas? It’s not as easy as one might think.
One room was devoted to a special exhibit on Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” – that piece where he purchased a urinal, turned it on its side, and signed it “R. Mutt”.
I’ve got my own thoughts on that object, which will probably take a completely separate post.
But not yet. It’s time to take in a sporting event.