It doesn't get any better than an "Art Lover's Weekend" in Philadelphia, featuring a terrific triple-header:
The Barnes Foundation
Museum of Art
. Add a ballet production with two world premieres and a stay at
The Hotel Palomar
Philadelphia, a 24-story Art Deco property, housed in the 80-year-old American Institute of Architects building! Modeled on Paris, Philly has much more to offer than the
, and although we did visit the latter, art was our prime focus. In fact, art is ubiquitous here with Philadelphia second only to aforementioned Paris for public art.
The new Barnes building displays the world's largest collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and early Modern paintings including 181
, saving one a costly trip to Europe. The Philadelphia Museum of Art's collections include more than 225,000 pieces, considered among the world's best. The Rodin Museum is unique in North America. Philadelphia also boasts outdoor mural art, inspired as a productive way to deal with graffiti with a 1% rule of private development budgets geared to the Mural Arts Program conducted throughout the neighborhoods and featuring the likes of Philly's
Friday: After delicious flaky pastry at Miel Patisserie, a French bakery just off of
, close to the hotel, we reduce our caloric intake with a long walk to the end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and the Philadelphia Museum of Art which could easily take all day to explore. After ascending the steps featured in the "
" movie, we limit ourselves to the Asian wing, with installations of a Japanese teahouse, Indian temple hall and Chinese nobleman's reception room. Across the street, the recently opened
Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building
is a mix of 1927 Art Deco and skylit concrete modernism, reserved for special exhibitions that often focus on design fields such as textiles, furniture and fine crafts.
In the afternoon, we walk a few blocks along the Parkway towards Philadelphia's remarkable City Hall, topped by an Alexander Milne Calder sculpture of city founder
. We reach the Rodin Museum, housing the largest public collection of the master's works outside of Paris, including
The Gates of Hell
. Amidst formal gardens, we watch artists sketching myriad sculptures. It's so very quiet and contemplative here.
Then, in contrast, we visit the world's largest LED video wall at the new
, followed by late lunch at Table 31, a restaurant that blends steakhouse cuisine with Italian regional dishes.
We consider an evening return to the Philadelphia Museum of Art because Friday evening, there's live music, film showings and special gallery talks and tours. However, we pass and head downtown to check out a shimmering collaboration between Philadelphia's original "painter of light"
and glass artisan extraordinaire
Louis Comfort Tiffany
Curtis Center's Dream Garden
is a marvelous mosaic crafted of 100,000 pieces of favrile glass in some 260 colors accentuated by pink salmons and sky blues.
For dinner in Old City on the outskirts of the animated neighborhood, the striking Union Trust serves steak as the prime order. This old bank building has been transformed into a cathedral-like setting with a jewel-toned design, both luxurious and soaring. We do much more walking at night, feeling quite safe despite Broad Street's reputation for bullies circa '70s coach Fred Shero and his nasty Flyers hockey team.
Saturday: we breakfast at the nearby bustling Reading Terminal Market's Dutch Eating Place, opting for a heaping stack of blueberry pancakes. The market stalls are fun to explore from tasty bakeries to cheese purveyors and hand-twisted pretzels.
Next, we walk to
, near the Fairmount Park Visitors Center, to embark on a 90-minute ride on the city's elevated train line or "the el" as it's known to locals. This is part of the
Mural Arts Program's Love Letter Mural Tour
, a unique public art project that features the work of Stephen Powers who has crafted a series of 50 murals to resemble old-style billboards that trace one particular fellow's courtship of a fortunate lady.
After lunch on the fly, it's the
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
' tour-de-force starts outside with mansard roofs, terra cotta and arches coalescing into a magnificent whole. Inside, we view the work of past students and teachers such as
Charles Willson Peale
and Maxfield Parrish, plus other American masters like
. Across the street, a new wing spotlights contemporary artists and features a great gift shop.
Next, we hit
, the newest entry from celebrated chef
, a former
Award winner and favorite of Food & Wine. This is a lively trattoria that features kitchen-side seating and butcher-block tables. The menu offers hearty Italian fare.
It's a short stroll to the Avenue of the Arts, where live music and theater abounds. Visitors may choose from opera or ballet at the
Academy of Music
, chamber music, jazz or pop at the
Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
or theater at the
Suzanne Roberts Theatre
, home of the
Philadelphia Theatre Company
At the Wilma Theater we watch
perform two of seven scheduled world premieres, guided by co-founders and Artistic Directors,
. The dancing is powerful, modern and daring.
Sunday: after visiting
for breakfast, we navigate around the corner for a tour of Barnes, saving the best for last. Designed by
Tod Williams and Billie Tsien
who formed their New York-based collaborative practice in 1986, hundreds of Impressionist paintings are hung in the idiosyncratic fashion favored by
Albert C. Barnes
, who established the Foundation in 1922 to promote art appreciation. It's a treasure we will not forget. Afterwards, a quick trip to
Independence National Historical Park with its free attractions, the Liberty Bell Center and Independence Hall, and we return back home on an art lover's high!
The Barnes Foundation
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review, Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine.