A visit to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (aka PAFA, on Broad and Race) is an experience that can go one of 3 ways. It can be Historical, Modern, or have the best of both worlds. After visiting the museum you can sit on the benches that wind around that huge airplane (it’s a greenhouse) and paintbrush that are in between the locations.
The two neighboring buildings that compose the museum are, at first glance, two different worlds. What strikes the visitor—or maybe only me — is that you can see universal ties of art and expression and how they’ve changed over the last 200+ years since PAFA opened its doors.
The Furness-Hewitt Building Historic Landmark Building (or what most staff simply call the historical building), is a work of art in itself. It’s styled in the High Victorian Gothic fashion — which may sound a little creepy and antique,but it is truly stunning. When one hears “museum”, halls and halls of boring, irrelevant artwork may come to mind. You’ll be trapped in this huge building, almost maze-like with no escape or even notion of an outside world. PAFA’s Historical Landmark building, though palace-like has a homey charm to it. The walls are vibrant colors, there’s windows and there’s natural light.
One of the major galleries at PAFA has a salon-style wall, meaning there’s not a blank wall and a huge picture, there’s rows and columns of paintings. Its colorfully explosive. There are benches and a skylights for your viewing comfort. You can follow a path around the galleries that shows you artwork in sequential order throughout American History. You start before the American Revolution and end in the 1950s. I recommend checking out the Landscape room (gallery 9) and the Potamkin Gallery (gallery 13), which is half-surrealism, half abstract expressionism.
They even have the only painting of a statue that used to be where City Hall is now, and the head is right next to it! There’s a wonderful room full of paintings and sculptures from the Civil War. There are contemporary portraits directly across from historic portraits, including a portrait of one of America’s presidents. The conversation between the two pieces as they shared a hallway was amazing and also reflects the conversation between the two buildings.
The Historic Landmark Building will also soon be housing work from the graffiti artist Kaws.
The Historic Landmark Building primarily houses the permanent collection of the museum , but the Hamilton Building, next door, is ever-changing. This building is very chic; white walls, high ceilings and glass fixings. It houses art of current/former PAFA students and changing exhibitions. Starting November 16th, it is due to house an exhibit about the Mural Arts Association called Beyond the Paint: Philadelphia’s Mural Arts. Teens will get to experience Beyond the Paint at PAFA’s STAMP event in February. Upstairs, there is a gallery full of multi-media work, in contrast of the Historic Landmark Building’s collections, which consist of oil paintings, and statues.
PAFA is a great place to visit when looking for some history or something new (in respects of the art itself or the way it is presented). It is an awesome place to find something new in history, or to see something new make history. I hope you visit!
READY TO VISIT PAFA? Check out the PAFA profile page for the hours you can use your STAMP pass!
This post was written by Amani Bey, a STAMP Teen Council member. Amani attends Science Leadership Academy.