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The best fall exhibits in Philadelphia art museums

The mammoth Jasper Johns retrospective, revisiting a groundbreaking Black art show, an ode to the Martin guitar, a Renoir model’s own art, a Klip Collective nighttime show, and more.

"Usuyuki," 1982, by Jasper Johns. Encaustic on canvas (three panels)
"Usuyuki," 1982, by Jasper Johns. Encaustic on canvas (three panels)Read more© 2021 Jasper Johns/VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Usually, you go to a museum to see the work of multiple artists. Increasingly, though, as mega retrospectives swell and metastasize, you need to go to multiple museums to see the work of one artist.

This season brings what is likely the biggest such show to be seen here, the mammoth Jasper Johns 500-work retrospective, which will be shared by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

Meanwhile, the beloved Philadelphia artist and educator Larry Day (1921-98) will be the focus of three shows: His figurative art will be shown at Woodmere Art Museum, his abstractions at the University of the Arts, and architecture and cityscapes at Arcadia University.

editor's note
Because of the pandemic, a lot of events and openings are still unpredictable, and we expect that many will change. Check with the venue in advance to confirm dates and times, and what COVID-19 vaccination and testing policies are in place.

The Barnes Foundation will show paintings by artist Suzanne Valadon, who is most often seen as a model, in works by Toulouse-Lautrec , Renoir, and others, while the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts shows Joan Semmel, one of her successors in depicting female sensuality.

The Delaware Art Museum will re-create a groundbreaking show of Black artists from 50 years ago. The Michener shows woman woodworkers, and the Reading Public Museum celebrates a regional icon — the Martin guitar.

Be sure to check with venues for current COVID-19 protocols before you head out.

Daring Design: The Impact of Three Women on Wharton Esherick’s Craft

This show examines the role of three women — Helene Fischer (1879-1970), Hanna Weil (1900-1985), and Marjorie Content (1895-1984) — who played important roles as clients and inspirations for the famous cubist-influenced woodworker during the 1930s. (Through Feb. 6, $13-15, Michener Art Museum, 138 S. Pine St., Doylestown, 215-340-9800,

Ulysses Jenkins: Without Your Interpretation

This is the first retrospective of the Los Angeles-based artist (born in 1946) who has described himself as a “video griot” who pulls together various media to tell stories about Black culture, traditions, and issues. (Sept. 17-Dec. 30, free, Institute of Contemporary Art, 118 S. 36th St., 215-898-7108,

The Art of the Guitar

The C.F. Martin Co. of Nazareth, Pa., was founded in 1833, and this show will feature historic examples of its guitars, along with one-of-a-kinds made for special performers and occasions. “Medieval to Metal: The Art and Evolution of the Guitar,” a companion show, features stringed instruments from the Renaissance to today. (Sept. 18-Jan. 9, $6-10, Reading Public Museum, 500 Museum Road, Reading, 610-371-5850,

Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley: Blood Moon

The video artists, known for dramatic work in black-and-white, unveil two new works, both of which feature people with pumpkins for heads. (Sept. 24-Feb. 20, $5 suggested donation, Fabric Workshop and Museum, 1214 Arch St., 215-561-8888,

Body Language: The Art of Larry Day

Born Lorenzo del Giorno to an Italian father and a Scottish mother in Philadelphia, Larry Day is one of Philadelphia’s best known 20th-century artists. This three-venue exhibition will bring together more than 150 of his paintings, drawings, and prints. Woodmere features the multifigure paintings for which he is best known. Arcadia University’s showing of architectural subjects opened in August (through Nov. 21), and the Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery at the University of the Arts will show his abstractions Oct. 8-Dec. 3. (Sept. 25-Jan. 23, Woodmere Art Museum, 9201 Germantown Ave., $7-10, 215-247-0476,

Suzanne Valadon: Model, Painter, Rebel

Valadon (1865-1938) was the first woman artist to show in the important Paris salon exhibitions. She was also on display there, since she was a model for Renoir’s famous dancing paintings and many others. She was also the mother of the artist Maurice Utrillo. Her own work deals realistically with the female body and frequently explores sexual desire. (Sept. 26-Jan 9, Barnes Foundation, 2025 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy., $23-25, 215-278-7000,

Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror

This massive retrospective, organized jointly by two museums with whom the artist has long associations, was originally scheduled to coincide with the artist’s 90th birthday but was postponed by the pandemic. Taking their cue from the mirroring in much of Johns’ art, each museum’s exhibition will be comprehensive but reflect aspects of the other. New York will have a section on dreams; Philadelphia will have nightmares. (Sept. 29-Feb. 13, Philadelphia Museum of Art and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy., $23-25, joint admission available with Whitney, 215-763-8100,

Richard Benson: The World Is Smarter Than You Are

The first comprehensive exhibition of a photographer best known for his books. Benson’s career began with his documentation of fine craftsmanship, which is also evident in his own printmaking. (Oct. 3-Jan 23, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy., $23-25, 215-763-8100,

America’s Impressionism: Echoes of a Revolution

This survey of one of the region’s most popular genres consists of 50 paintings borrowed from museums and private collectors, including artists such as Childe Hassam, William Merritt Chase, and Lila Cabot Perry. It differs from other similar shows in its focus on work from throughout the country, rather than just Pennsylvania and the Northeast. (Oct. 9-Jan. 9, Brandywine River Museum of Art, 1 Hoffman’s Mill Road, Chadds Ford, $15-18, 610-388-2700,

Miriam Carpenter — Shaping the Ethereal

Carpenter, a Bucks County artist and woodworker, spent time as a designer in the Nakashima furniture studios in New Hope. Her own work, featured in this show, investigates and transforms materials, as in the delicate feathers she teases out of wood. (Oct. 9-March 20, Michener Art Museum, 138 S. Pine St., Doylestown, $13-15, 215-340-9800,

Emma Amos: Color Odyssey

Amos, who died last year, was the only female member of the influential Black artists’ group Spiral, and also a member of the feminist Guerilla Girls. This survey, organized by the Georgia Museum of Art, concentrates on her use of color and various media, including weaving, to explore womanhood and Blackness. (Oct. 11-Jan. 17, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy., $23-25, 215-763-8100,

Afro-American Images 1971: The Vision of Percy Ricks

In 1971, the artist Perry Ricks organized the group Aesthetic Dynamics and mounted an ambitious show that included both local artists and artists who were already well-known or soon to become so. This new show of about 130 works by 66 creators includes most of the artists and many of the works from the original. Among them: Faith Ringgold, Sam Gilliam, Romare Bearden, Humbert Howard, and Edward Loper Sr. and Edward Loper Jr. (Oct. 23-Jan 23, Delaware Museum of Art, 2301 Kentmere Parkway, Wilmington, DE, $14, 302-571-9590,

Joan Semmel: Skin in the Game

Semmel (born in 1932) is known for her female nudes and self-portraits that seek to reclaim female eroticism from the male-centered voyeurism of historic art and pop culture. This show, her first career retrospective, includes about 40 paintings, along with rarely seen paintings and collages. (Oct. 28-April 3, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 118-128 N. Broad St., $15, 215-972-7600,

Ahmed Alsoudani: Bitter Fruit

The artist, who was born in Iraq in 1975 and came to the United States in the mid-1990s, is known for dense, vivid canvases that often evoke the horrors of war. (Nov. 12-May 1, $5 suggested donation, Fabric Workshop and Museum, 1214 Arch St., 215-561-8888,

Night Forms: dreamloop by Klip Collective

The New Jersey sculpture park is kicking off nighttime programming with 14 site-specific light and sound installations. These often relate to or transform existing works in the park. (Nov. 26-Feb. 28, $28, Grounds for Sculpture, 80 Sculptors Way, Hamilton, NJ, 609-586-0616, 🎟️ Buy tickets

» READ MORE: Find more in our complete fall arts guide

This article has been updated to correct information about the Suzanne Valadon exhibit at the Barnes Foundation