The thought of visiting such a historical city intrigues me, but most of the time it just bores me. The Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the First AND Second Banks of the United States, and the building where the very first insurance company started … all this never really gave me the urge to pack up and run to Philadelphia. But then I read about all of the street art, sculptures, and museums the city has to offer.
My traveling gal pal and I spent our first day in Philly completely absorbed by art, but we had to start it off with Dunkin’ Donuts. Some readers may think, “What’s the big deal about Dunkin’?” But we don’t have Dunkin’ Donuts in Texas. Actually, we may have a couple of franchises, but they are few and far between. So I began the first full day of our trip with ice coffee and a bag of assorted Munchkins. Yummo.
Our main point of interest for the day was the Philadelphia Museum of Art. You might be thinking of Rocky and his incredibly famous sprint up the museum stairs. That’s the same building that houses more than 225,000 objects in more than 200 galleries spanning more than 2,000 years. We saw everything from permanent installations of cathedrals and Japanese temples to the original “Sunflowers” by Van Gogh. We spent probably four hours strolling through the galleries and it would have been even more stellar if we had the time or brain capacity to read about every piece that made us stop for a longer look. But one of the most intriguing exhibitions was of Marcel Duchamp’s Ètant donnès, which has been described as “the strangest work of art in any museum.” It really is. The piece was permanently installed in the museum and revealed to the public in 1969.
Ètant donnès is extremely difficult to describe and the entire exhibition was a series of photographs about the making of each part of the tableau. The piece looks pretty basic and extremely eerie from the outside, consisting of a large wooden door with two peep holes for you to peer through to see a nude woman on her back, face hidden, legs spread, and holding a gas lamp in one hand. There is also a backdrop of a landscape with a moving waterfall and trees. It’s completely freaky at first, but I went back for a second or third glance just because I found the whole concept to be kind of unbelievable. We walked through the rest of the exhibit and learned about how Duchamp used an old wooden door, bricks, velvet, twigs, a female form made of leather, glass, linoleum, and an electric motor to create the piece. He also included instructions on how to assemble and disassemble the entire thing.
Another one my favorite exhibits was in the annex, or the Perelman Building, which holds even more galleries for more modern collections. We saw an exhibit on Japanese fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto, who designed outrageous clothes along with David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” persona, and, my personal favorite, a collection of twentieth-century chairs. I almost sat out from walking through this gallery because I was unbelievably tired and this was the last stop, but I am glad that I didn’t because the design of some of these chairs was so creative and some looked really fun to sit on.
After completing our artistic escapades through time, we checked out and quickly left the museum gift shop ($100 staplers and $75 candy bowls made of melted plastic soldiers, no thank you) and grabbed a falafel before we hit up our favorite Philly bar called Tattooed Moms on South Street. We just sort of ended up there randomly because the posh club with Parisian-themed décor across the street was no fun. I found some fellow tattooed citizens, cheap beer, and dum dums and plastic tops to keep me full and entertained while I sat at the bar. I even ran into an old friend from Austin at Tattooed Moms. He and his boyfriend were busy playing battleship, coloring pictures, and stealing googly eyes that were left over from craft night at the bar.
We saved the historical sights for the last day of the trip. More to come on this final leg of our adventure in Part 3.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
26th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Philadelphia, PA 19130
530 South St
Philadelphia, PA 19147