Much of what is most intriguing this season is not about art, but about the artful. This is not an autumn for masterpieces, but rather an opportunity, for example, to enter the Philadelphia Museum of Art through a long-forgotten door.
The Art Museum’s major exhibitions include a long-awaited design show about the future, and what promises to be a dazzling array of wearable art. Both the Allentown Art Museum and the Reading Public Museum are mounting shows on movie costumes of different eras. The Delaware Art Museum is exploring what it means to be black and beautiful, while the Brandywine Art Museum is showing revisionist versions of Cinderella and the Three Little Pigs. And a “ghost ship” will appear on the Delaware River.
Only the Barnes Foundation, with a traveling exhibition of African American art and the Michener Art Museum, with a memorial show of Pennsylvania pictures donated by H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, are spotlighting paintings.
Jacolby Satterwhite: Room for Living (Through Jan. 19, Fabric Workshop and Museum). Satterwhite is known for animated videos set in an Afrofuturist space-scape that evokes Star Wars, the megalomaniacal movie choreographer Busby Berkeley, and homoerotic porn. This first solo museum show from the South Carolina-born, Penn-trained, and Brooklyn-based artist will attempt to realize these visions with real materials in real space. (215-561-8888, fabricworkshopandmuseum.org)
Michelle Lopez: Ballast & Barricades (Through May 10, 2020, Institute of Contemporary Art). Lopez is a Philadelphia artist interested in urban conflict and destruction, and the ICA has invited her to create an installation that “reduces a city to rubble inside a museum." ICA will open two other shows the same day: arms ache avid aeon: Nancy Brooks Brody/Joy Episalla/Zoe Leonard/Carrie Yamaoka: fierce pussy amplified, a traveling show examining a queer art collective and also the third installment of its multi-year project, “Colored People Time” (both through Dec. 22). (215-898-7108, icaphila.org)
Reopening of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s North Entrance (Sept. 18, 10-11:30 a.m. ceremony). The Art Museum is not just reopening a portal that has been closed for more than four decades. It also is the first step in encouraging people to experience the museum in a new way and the most dramatic event so far in its transformative expansion. (215-763-8100, philamuseum.org)
Cut! Costume and Cinema (Sept. 21–Jan. 5, Reading Public Museum). This traveling show of costumes from films of recent decades includes Johnny Depp’s maritime ensemble from Pirates of the Caribbean. Also on display on the same dates will be The Art of the Naminghas: Dan, Arlo, and Michael, showing the work of a Native American artist and his two sons, whose work vacillates between representation and abstraction. (610-371-5850, readingpublicmuseum.org)
Our Town: A Retrospective of Edith Neff (Sept. 21-Jan. 19, Woodmere Art Museum). Philadelphia was central to the work of Neff (1943-95), long one of the city’s most respected artists. This is her first museum retrospective in two decades. (215-247-0476, woodmereartmuseum.org)
Ancient History of a Distant Future (Sept. 26-Feb. 2, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts). PAFA collaborates with KADIST, a nonprofit collection of contemporary art, by juxtaposing works in PAFA’s permanent collection in its Historic Landmark Building with some lent by KADIST. (215-972-7600, pafa.org)
Impressionism to Modernism: The Lenfest Collection of American Art (Sept. 29-March 1, Michener Art Museum). In celebration of Gerry Lenfest, who died last year, and his wife Marguerite, donors of many of the Michener’s best-loved paintings, all the works they gave will be on display together for the first time. (215-340-9800, michenerartmuseum.org)
Designing Hollywood: Golden Age Costumes from the Gene London Cinema Collection (Sept. 29-Dec. 22, Allentown Art Museum). These costumes, collected by the longtime Philadelphia children’s show host, were made for such iconic stars as Bette Davis as Queen Elizabeth I, and Leslie Caron as Gigi. (610-432-4333, allentownartmuseum.org)
Ghost Ship (beginning Oct. 4, beneath the Benjamin Franklin Bridge). As a kickoff to a new arts program of the Delaware River Waterfront Corp., an apparition of a 90-foot-long 18th century sailing ship will be visible in the Delaware River. This three-dimensional light- and water-based installation is by Romanian-based Biangle Studio, which has done similar installation in several other cities, and is part of a monthlong public art exhibition examining the shared history of free and forced migration on the Delaware. (215-922-2386, delawareriverwaterfront.com)
Cinderella & Co.: Three Fairy Tales Reimagined (Oct.5-Jan.5, 2020, Brandywine River Museum of Art). This show of classic and contemporary book illustrations will present artists’ interpretations of Cinderella, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and the Three Little Pigs. Some place the stories in non-Western cultures; others, such as the one where the Big Bad Wolf and the pigs come to an understanding, are just different. (610-388-2700, brandywine.org/museum)
Posing Beauty in African American Culture (Oct. 19-Jan. 26, 2020, Delaware Art Museum). This show considers the ways in which African and African American beauty have been represented over time and now in media, photography, film, video, fashion, advertising, and other forms of popular culture. (302-571-9590, delart.org)
The Eternal Feast: Banqueting in Chinese Art from the 10th to the 14th Century (Oct. 19-Feb. 16, 2020, Princeton University Art Museum). Rare paintings and artifacts from the Song, Liao, and Yuan dynasties illustrate the linkage between everyday rituals and the afterlife. (609-258-3788, artmuseum.princeton.edu)
Designs for Different Futures (Oct. 22-March 8, 2020, Philadelphia Museum of Art). This ambitious exhibition, organized by the Art Museum with the Art Institute of Chicago and the Walker Design Center, considers almost every aspect of life and how designers will help shape it in the decades and centuries ahead. (215-763-8100, philamuseum.org)
30 Americans (Oct. 27-Jan. 12, 2020, Barnes Foundation). This exhibition of African American artists from the Miami-based Rubell Family Collection is billed as the 10th anniversary presentation of a groundbreaking show. (215-278-7000, Barnesfoundation.org)
Music for 150 Carpenters (Berman Museum of Art, Nov.7-March 15, 2020). To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Ursinus College, of which Berman is part, the sound artist Douglas Henderson will bring together 150 carpenters and others, along with 150 sawhorses and 10,000 nails in a performance at the museum. This is not open to the public, but a film of the performance will be projected on the floor of the museum’s main gallery. (610-409-3500, ursinus.edu/berman)
Off the Wall: American Art to Wear (Nov. 10-May 17, 2020, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Perelman Building). Including more than 100 works by about 50 artists, this show looks at artists’ explorations of body-centered art during the last third of the 20th century, in terms of the popular music and culture of the time. (215-763-8100, philamuseum.org)