Institute of Contemporary Art

I was a good artist in fifth grade. Really. That’s when I won my class’s cartoon contest and had my work displayed in the cafeteria with the other grades’ winners. Since then, though, I haven’t gotten to explore art as much as I would like to. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a huge fan of art. I check out the PMA at least once a year (on Free Museum Days, exclusively), and whenever my photography-major roommate needs a model, I’m there for her. And, yeah, I’ve collected a couple paintings for my bedroom wall. Otherwise, though, my life is not nearly as art-filled as I would like it to be.

As an advocate of exploration, I must insist that you check out the Institute of Contemporary Art, as I did in my quest for artistic inspiration. The ICA seems to specialize in unique exhibits that challenge the typical perception of “art.” It’s a cool space – sparse and somewhat industrial with its concrete floor and its white pipes running along the high ceiling, yet also pure-looking in its bare whiteness. There are two floors, but I’ve only ventured through the first, where the single-artist installations are held.

The first time I visited the ICA was actually last semester when I saw a fantastically interesting fibers exhibit: floor-to-ceiling woven threads in the vague look of carpets, but much more whimsical and abstract. This time, though, the work of German artist Charline von Heyl was being featured. The artist is quoted in an ICA pamphlet as saying,

“It is about the feeling that a painting, or any work of art, can give – when you can’t stop looking because there is something that you want to find out, that you want to understand … Good paintings have this tantalizing quality. And once you turn around, you absolutely cannot recapture them. They leave a hole in the mind, a longing.”

This pretty much sums up the exhibit. I didn’t understand her work, and many of the paintings were very, very … weird. But as I stated before, though I have not studied art, I have an open mind, which is all you need to at least appreciate it. Her use of color and odd shapes captivated, forced me to stare at until I could feel something. No two paintings were alike. Each was far detached from conscious reality and any concrete object. And they had titles like “Poodle Pit” and “Lazybone Shuffle,” which alone should be enough to pique your interest.

The Institute for Contemporary Art is located on UPenn’s campus at 118 South 36th Street. Because the ICA is small, I’d recommend stopping by if you already happen to be in University City. It’s closed on Mondays and Tuesday but open every other day:

W 11-8

R/F 11-6

S/S 11-5

Oh, and admission is FREE!

Above painting: “Igitur,” Charline von Heyl, 2008. Her work will be featured at the ICA from now until February 19th.

Mistakes Were Made

As an actor, I am in complete awe of anyone who can memorize large bulks of text and perform them without faltering. That’s why one-man shows are so impressive to me. One actor has to carry the entire play, and if they forget a line? No cues to help them out. Another thing that gets me about one-man shows is the energy the actor needs to last for an hour and a half straight – like in Mistakes Were Made, which required Scott Greer to constantly pace his office and often scream into his headset while popping pills as if he were about to explode at any moment.

This enthusiastic commitment to the character was the highlight of “Mistakes Were Made,” currently running at the Play & Players Theater with 1812 Productions through October 30th. The show documents a hectic hour-and-a-half in the work-life of Felix Artifex (Greer), a harried wannabe-Broadway producer with a habit of biting off more than he can chew. Felix’s story is told through long-winded, turbo-charged phone conversations with his clients, wife, secretary, and investors – who, by the way, are being held captive by flamethrower-wielding terrorists in a foreign country – as well as through a few musings to his gargantuan fish, Denise.

The most impressive aspect of a one-man show is also what makes it most at risk for being redundant. If you’re going to see this play, be aware that not much happens. There is one set, three characters (if you count the fish), and not much of a plot. But Mistakes Were Made mostly avoids redundancy with incredible acting and a good amount of character development. The best moments are when Felix steps back from his job and finally talks to the estranged wife that he’s been trying to get a hold of all day, because in these moments, he is not a wannabe-Broadway producer, but a real human being with a real, sad past.

I applaud the use of an over-fed fish and an over-medicated character to symbolize Felix’s addiction to wanting more, more, more in his career, which inevitably leads to a loss in other parts of his life. The set was extremely convincing as a snazzy high-rise Manhattan office, with its theatrical posters and windows that showed the passing of day through changes in light. I loved the theater itself, too. I’d been there before, for “Any Given Monday” two years ago as well as for a burlesque show last summer, and each time I feel like I’ve stepped a few years into the past.

If you’re interested in seeing a very different kind of play and don’t mind watching one man yell at unseen people through a phone for an hour and a half, see Mistakes Were Made at the Play & Players Theater.

Thanks to Alex Wright, my co-critic.

What is Blini?

Blini! (from

Blini is a Russian pastry made of sweet dough that’s wrapped like a crepe and holds a rich cheese filling. It is often eaten with powdered sugar sprinkled on top and dipped in sour cream.

This I learned at the St. Michael’s 35th Annual Russian Festival last weekend. Held at St. Michael’s Orthodox Church at 4th & Fairmount in Northern Liberties, the weekend-long event celebrated all things Russian and invited the whole Philadelphia community to their party for free. Besides blini, there were “Imports from the Old Country” like nesting dolls and painted eggs; live Russian folk music in the form of an accordion player; tours of the gorgeous church by a priest who loved to talk about how gorgeous the church is; and a full room of archives of Russian history and culture.

I was impressed to find people who were both so in tune with their heritage and so willing to share it with those unfamiliar to it. Parishioners greeted everyone at the door, and though my friend and I were not of the church, we felt instantly welcomed. At every table that we visited, someone was there to tell us all about the objects’ significance to Russian culture. And the priest was very patient in answering our questions about the differences between Orthodox Christianity and Catholicism. (Point 1: priests can marry.)

All of the food was made by someone at the church. There were some foods I’d never heard of – holubtsi, halushky, kapusta? Alas, I must admit that I was not a huge fan of the aforementioned blini. However, the pierogies and tea cakes were fantastic.

You may be wondering why I’ve described a Russian festival that is now over and has nothing to do with Temple’s PEX Pass. Well … YOU’RE WRONG, because it DOES have something to do with the PEX Pass. Indirectly, of course, because there are no coupons for attending any church services, as those as usually free. Still, the point of PEX is to encourage students to get into Philly and check out stuff that they normally wouldn’t, stuff that’s outside of their comfort zone. I am not Russian in the least. Polish, but more on the southern side. But that’s exactly why I went!

Also, I found out about this event through a Temple News article, “Under the Radar.” Information about random but cool events can be found in surprising places. Pay attention to signs, fliers, newspaper ads. Or flip through your PEX Pass and pick out a place that you’ve never even heard of. You never know what fancy new pastries you’ll get to try as a result!

Butterflies and Dinosaurs and Moose, Oh My!

The Academy of Natural Sciences is a standard enough education and tourist destination that I’m sure that a) most people already visited it with their fourth grade class, or b) another PEX correspondent has written about it before. Still, because it’s so standard, I might as well remind you to get there if you haven’t yet!

This place has it all, in terms of … well, natural science. The first thing you see upon entering is a huge, hanging, intact dinosaur skeleton. (It looks like it’s waving at you. Aww!) To your right is Dinosaur Hall, which is filled with life-size skeletons and tons of facts about the animals that they once filled. There’s also a separate room for watching professionals scrape newly-unearthed bones out of rock. Not just demonstrations. Actual experts working on actual dinosaur bones. Cool, right?

Upstairs has a section filled with glass cases that hold stuffed animals – stuffed like taxidermy – in replicas of their natural environments. My favorites were the really big, scary-looking ones like the bison and polar bear. There is also a sign next to every case that describes that animal and its home. Fun fact: “Moose are the giant vegetarians of the northern forests.” Did you know that? I didn’t!

What sets the Academy apart from your average museum, though, is the butterfly exhibit. This is your chance to get up close and personal with someĀ  really beautiful creatures. The room is filled with tropical plants in order to mimic the insects’ natural habitats, and because they’re at face level, you can watch a butterfly extract nectar from a flower from just a few inches away. There are always 20-40 different types flying around and new ones are shipped in every week from all around the world, so you’ll never see the same thing twice – not that that would be a letdown at all, considering how lovely they are.

The butterfly room is pretty small; ten minutes is all you need to really appreciate it. But it’s such a rarity to be able to get so close to something so exotic. And some people do get really close: I have a friend who used to volunteer in the exhibit, and she said that butterflies would fly down and chill on her shoulders as she worked. Seeing them costs an extra two bucks, but you also get to hang out in an 80-degree room for a few minutes, which will be nice if you go during the winter.

The Academy is located on the Parkway right next to Logan Circle, the Franklin Institute, and the Free Library. It’s just a few blocks away from the City Hall/15th Street subway stop if you head past Love Park and toward the PMA. I didn’t see many options for parking, so public trans is probably the way to go. A swoop of the whole museum wouldn’t take more than an hour, so plan it as part of a full sightseeing day.

Here’s the best part of : with your PEX Pass discount, entry to the museum is FREE!

Beware of flying dinosaurs! (Just kidding, this guy looks like a swimmer)

Tropical butterfly paradise

Hello, Philadelphia!

And hello to you, Temple kids. I’m Julie, a junior studying Broadcasting, Telecommunications and Mass Media here. I’m also:

  • Often lost
  • A theater fan/participant
  • Suburbia-raised
  • A city explorer
  • Minoring in psychology
  • Super excited about Philly

Like, really really really excited about Philly. Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up in the city, but every time I go downtown, I feel like I’m discovering something new. It can be overwhelming because there’s so much to take in, but it’s also fun, and with practice it gets easier to navigate. (And as I’ve pointed out above, I spend a lot of my time not knowing where I’m going. After 2+ years of living here, I can safely say that I can maneuver through the Broad Street and Market-Frankford subway lines and not accidentally end up in New Jersey. Then again, that may be impossible to do anyway.)

Philadelphia is a very small big city. It’s huge in scope but tiny in accessibility. I think of Temple as a microcosm of the city at large. You have the sports that people go crazy for; you have the arts outlets (Tyler, theater, music) that enlighten and inspire; you have a menagerie of majors that represent so many sectors of interest and eventual careers; and most importantly (I think), you have the most interestingly diverse group of people to contribute different strengths and points of view.

This is where the PEX Pass comes in. It has tons of discounts to stuff that you might have wanted to do but thought was too expensive, or that you’d never even heard of before. I’ll be posting about some of the cultural events and institutions that I visit in order to encourage others to explore, too. I especially love seeing plays and checking out weird museums, but I’ll also try to break out of my comfort zone. Because that’s what exploration is all about, right?

Logan Circle! The loveliest fountain in Philadelphia, and a necessary stop on your travels to the Museum District

There may or may not be a very distinct "NO SWIMMING" sign.