Though history museums and libraries have hit a rough patch lately with the closing of the Philadelphia History Museum and the belt-tightening and layoffs at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the region’s museum and library landscape hardly shows signs of doom.
The National Constitution Center has just opened its first permanent exhibition in years (devoted to the Civil War and Reconstruction), a new museum is opening at the Audubon Center at Mill Grove in Montgomery County, and the Penn Museum is moving its 13-ton sphinx to a new permanent location while the renovation continues of signature galleries devoted to world cultures.
A major exhibition of N.C. Wyeth opens soon at the Brandywine Museum of Art, Bill Viola’s video work is coming to the Barnes, the Philadelphia Museum of Art brings in contemporary African American art from the South, and PAFA is looking at the Philadelphia influence on the Hudson River School of painters.
Meanwhile, the region-wide celebration of the bicentennial of Walt Whitman’s birth is playing out at several institutions, and exhibitions at two Doylestown museums commemorate the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing.
Oh, and there will be giant moving dinos at the Academy of Natural Sciences. They aren’t real — but it may be hard to tell.
Civil War and Reconstruction: The Battle for Freedom and Equality (permanent, the National Constitution Center). This compelling new exhibition explores the Civil War and subsequent constitutional amendments that abolished slavery, established birthright citizenship and equal protection under the law, and extended the right to vote to all men, regardless of color. (215-409-6600, constitutioncenter.org)
John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove Museum (Grand opening June 5). The Audubon Center at Mill Grove has just opened an 18,000-square-foot museum highlighting a large Birds of America, a digital Birds of America, and drawings of mammals. The museum will also feature a birds gallery, stories of conservation, and other exhibits. (610-666-5593, johnjames.audubon.org)
Souls Grown Deep: Artists of the African American South (June 8-Sept. 2, Philadelphia Museum of Art Perelman Building). The Souls Grown Deep Foundation in Atlanta documents, preserves, and promotes the work of contemporary African American artists in the South. This is the first showing of 24 works the foundation has given the Art Museum, including 15 of the distinctive quilts made by residents of Gee’s Bend, Ala. (215-763-8100, philamuseum.org)
Sphinx of Ramses II, Penn Museum (moving day: June 13). The museum’s iconic 13-ton, red-granite sphinx, which has been out of sight for a year as galleries are renovated and rebuilt, will move into the limelight of a new permanent location in the museum’s main entrance hall. June 13 is moving day, the first time the sphinx has left the Egyptian galleries in nearly a century. (215-898-4000, penn.museum.org)
A New Constellation: A Collection of Historic 13-Star Flags (June 14-July 14, Museum of the American Revolution). The museum mounts a display of 40 historic 13-star flags on loan. The flags have never been displayed together and, in fact, most have not been displayed at all. There was no official pattern for the stars, so the flags feature 32 different arrangements of 13 stars. (215-253-6731, amrevmuseum.org)
N.C. Wyeth: New Perspectives (June 22-Sept. 15, Brandywine River Museum of Art). With about 70 works of art on view, this is the first in-depth exhibition in 50 years to examine N.C. Wyeth’s entire body of work. The premier illustrator of his generation and patriarch of the artist clan of Wyeths, N.C. was also a distinguished painter of canvases and murals, work that ranged far beyond his famed illustrations for Treasure Island and other books. (610-388-2700, brandywine.org/museum)
From the Schuylkill to the Hudson: Landscapes of the Early American Republic (June 28-Dec. 29, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts). This PAFA show focuses on landscapes rendered in Philadelphia and their impact on the Hudson River School. Thomas Cole, who lived and trained in Philadelphia, was influenced by Philadelphians Thomas Doughty and Thomas Birch, for instance. A group of major Hudson River School paintings that PAFA has acquired over the last 10 years, including works by Cole, Albert Bierstadt, David Johnson, Frederic Church, and Thomas Moran, are a highlight of the exhibition. (215-972-7600, pafa.org)
I Do Not Know What It Is I Am Like: The Art of Bill Viola, (Barnes Foundation, June 30-Sept. 15). The Barnes presents an exhibition of works by the well-known video artist. Curated by John G. Hanhardt, the show features major pieces from 1976 to 2009, small video works, and the large-scale installations He Weeps for You, Pneuma, and Ascension. (215-278-7000, barnesfoundation.org)
Dinosaurs Around the World (June 30-Jan. 20, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University). Giant animatronic dinos, ancient forests and deserts, fossils, casts, plate tectonics in action. What more do you need on a hot summer day? (215-299-1000, ansp.org)
He Lives a Painted Life: Paintings by Isaiah Zagar (Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, through July 7). Best known for his distinctive mirrored mosaics, Zagar is also an active painter. This exhibition, mounted at Zagar ground zero in the 1000 block of South Street, presents a wide array of his paintings – personal, emotional, and deeply rooted in the artist’s daily life. (215-733-0390, phillymagicgardens.org)
Hidden Lives Illuminated (Eastern State Penitentiary, Aug. 15-Sept. 12). A series of 21 short films created by artists confined in Pennsylvania’s prisons. The films, offering an inside look at prison life, will be screened directly onto the old stone walls of Eastern State. (215-236-3300, easternstate.org)
Whitman Vignettes: Camden and Philadelphia (through Aug. 23, Kamin Gallery at Penn’s Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center). Walt Whitman (1819-92) spent the last 20 years of his life in Camden. This exhibition, on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the poet’s birth, focuses on the Camden-Philadelphia connection, both during Whitman’s lifetime and in the decades that followed. (215-898-7811, library.upenn.edu)
Multitudes: Walt Whitman at 200 (through Sept. 1, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts). Also in recognition of the Whitman bicentennial, PAFA presents works from its permanent collection that depict, evoke, or comment on the poet’s complex personality and writing. Curated by PAFA’s Youth Council, the exhibit features work by Thomas Eakins, Andrew Wyeth, Jonathan Chase, Mark Stockton, Christina Ramberg, and many others. (215-972-7600, pafa.org)
The Color of the Moon: Lunar Painting in American Art (through Sept. 8, Michener Art Museum). For the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing of Apollo 11, Doylestown’s Michener Museum presents an exhibition focusing on the moon in American landscape painting, in collaboration with the Hudson River Museum. Some 50 artists – from Thomas Cole to Norman Rockwell – explore the moon in the sky and in the imagination. (215-340-9800, michenerartmuseum.org)
Making Astronauts: Bucks County to the Moon (through Sept. 8, Mercer Museum). This companion exhibition in Doylestown, across the street from the Michener Museum, focuses on the role of Warminster’s Naval Air Development Center in America’s early space program. Mounted in collaboration with the Johnsville Centrifuge and Science Museum, the show features film clips, a replica of a spacecraft, Navy flight clothing, photographs, historic artifacts, and multimedia components. (215-345-0210, mercermuseum.org)
From Negro Pasts to Afro-Futures: Black Creative Re-Imaginings (through Oct. 24, Library Company of Philadelphia). The rise of Afro-futurism provides an opportunity for the Library Company to draw on its archive of drawings, love letters, poems, songs, speeches, and protests to glimpse futures once envisioned and desired. (215-546-3181, librarycompany.org)