Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts AKA That Building With The Paint Brush

Here’s the deal: PAFA is really old and really prestigious in the fine art world. Their two buildings at 118-128 N. Broad St. (spitting distance from the Race-Vine subway stop) host a diverse collection of 19th and 20th century art in mediums ranging from sculptures to oil paintings to drawings.  I was pretty skeptical about checking this place out, since I’m much more of a contemporary art kind of girl (something about portraits of dudes in wigs just doesn’t quite do it for me), but I decided to go in with an open mind (after all, the $12 fee is waived for Temple students).

Here’s what I saw (and loved):

  • Gorgeous marble sculptures with perfect movement in the fabric of their draped togas
  • A Georgia O’Keefe painting (a nice surprise)
  • Pieces so old that the paint was cracking (I’m mentioning this as an awesome fun fact rather than a judgmental comment).
  • Lots of extremely realistic landscapes and portraits
  • One huge room full of stunning African-American art
  • A cell-phone guided tour led by Hennessy Youngman, a gangster rapper, and
  • Informational signs written by art critic Nathanial Snerpus. (To give you an idea, the first line of his explanation on “Why Fruit?” are chosen for still life paintings was, “Because they’re still, silly”).

What I learned:

  • Children in art are almost always creepy. Children in sculptures with big wide eyes and rolls of baby fat are particularly unsettling.
  • I can appreciate realistic art best when it’s a landscape painted on a huge canvas and looks out at some sort of vista, so that I feel like if I were there, that’s the angle I would be viewing it from. Before today, I had never been able to appreciate realistic art, but it was amazing to walk around the room of landscapes and feel like I was being transported between seasons and locations every time I took a step to the left.
  • I don’t care about portraits unless they are of people wearing particularly fabulous clothing (which some of the ladies featured definitely were).

I definitely recommend taking a trip to PAFA if you have an hour or two available. It’s free, it’s close, and it’s a good size (big enough to have something for everyone, but small enough to be able to get through) for a quick trip.

NOTE: PAFA currently has an exhibition featuring the work of  Henry Ossawa Tanner, who was admittedly quite talented, but not at all to my taste, so I’m not going to waste your time tip-toeing around compliments and my real opinion. If you’re into religiously themed work, go check it out. If not, don’t run too fast.

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