Fall Arts Preview: Museums

Photo Credit for The Sway Machinery shot is: Bill Evans
Photo Credit for The Sway Machinery shot is: Bill Evans
Posted: September 18, 2012

It could be called a season of museum exhibitions on unintended consequences.

Anti-drinking forces, for instance, ushered in a raucous decade of drinking - as well as the federal income tax - as the region's nonart museumgoers will find amply demonstrated this fall.

Shipbuilders intent on creating the fastest, biggest, safest luxury liner launched the Titanic on its fateful voyage to the bottom of the sea, as an exhibition commemorating the 100th anniversary of the ship's rendezvous with an iceberg readily shows.

Alchemy, race, ghosts, river disasters, murals, and archaeological insight into the city's past will also be on tap around the region.

And the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent, closed for more than three years for renovations, has now set Saturday as its grand-reopening date. Items ranging from George Washington's desk to Mike Schmidt's batting helmet will at last be on view.

"American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition" (National Constitution Center, Oct. 19-April 23) In its most ambitious effort yet, the center presents a self-curated traveling exhibition tracing the rise and fall of the U.S. temperance movement. With roots in the early 19th century, anti-drink forces gained clout, ultimately winning adoption in 1919 of the Constitution's 18th Amendment, barring the sale of alcoholic beverages. Enter tumult and lawbreaking, leading finally to the amendment's repeal in 1933. Visitors will be treated to the rise of the women's suffrage movement, revenuers, the federal income tax, the Roaring Twenties, gangsters, speakeasies, and the Great Depression. (215-409-6600 or http://constitutioncenter.org)

"Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition" (Franklin Institute, Nov. 10-April 7) The Titanic may have gone to its watery grave in 1912, but it surely has not been forgotten, particularly not during the centennial of its icy demise. The Franklin Institute's exhibition, put together by Premier Exhibitions' Titanic subsidiary, which holds exclusive rights to artifacts from the wreck site, will feature 300 of those artifacts. The 15,000-square-foot show will present room re-creations and many individual stories (some about Philadelphians) tied to items recovered from the cold, cold sea. (215-448-1200 or http://www2.fi.edu)

Mural Arts Month (Multiple sites around Philadelphia, Oct. 1-31) In October, the Mural Arts Program will transform Philadelphia into a museum without walls (yet totally dependent on walls). Exhibitions, mural dedications, celebrity mural tours, trolley tours, artist talks, and a book signing will highlight the extravaganza. Four major projects will receive special attention: The Roots Mural Project; Philly Painting; Peace as a Haiku Song, celebrating the poet Sonia Sanchez; and Aqui y Alla, a collaboration with Mexican artists. (215-685-0750 or http://www.muralarts.org)  

"The Alchemical Quest" (Chemical Heritage Foundation, through Dec. 7) Chemical Heritage's museum has mounted an exhibition of rare alchemical texts from as early as the 16th century. As the systematic study of matter, alchemy launched the metamorphosis of magical thinking into scientific method, influencing a range of activities from metallurgy to medicine. The show highlights two pioneers, Isaac Newton and Robert Boyle, illustrating their roles during a dynamic, transformative period of inquiry. (215-925-2222 or http://www.chemheritage.org)

"Drawn into Politics" (The Free Library of Philadelphia Parkway Central Branch, through Nov. 11) In a nod to the election season, the Free Library is presenting an exhibition of 40 political cartoons from the founding of the nation through today, the majority culled from the library's print and picture collection. (Sixty additional images will be available through an online extension of the show.) Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News cartoonist Signe Wilkinson contributed some of her recent works, bringing the show up to the present. (215-686-5322 or http://freelibrary.org)

"Year of Proof: Making and Unmaking Race" (Penn Museum, through Aug. 18) The museum displays a sampling of its notorious Morton Collection of skulls, initially collected to explore 19th-century beliefs regarding different human "species." The exhibition, which may prefigure a larger, more sweeping show on the theme, demonstrates the use of the skulls in creating the idea of race. Dr. Samuel Morton, who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1820 and meticulously measured the skulls, is regarded as one of the fathers of "scientific racism." His work was attacked in the 1970s and '80s as slipshod and biased by biologist Stephen Jay Gould, who then found himself assailed for misrepresenting Morton in a slipshod and biased way. (215-898-4000 or http://www.penn.museum)

"Halloween Flashlight Tours" (Laurel Hill Cemetery, Oct. 26-30) The old cemetery, covering 78 acres in Fairmount Park, will offer visitors some seasonal drama (courtesy of the Not Ready for Afterlife Players) on tours of its historic mausoleums, sculptures, and gravestones. Bring your own flashlight; cookies and cider will be available for those who survive. On Oct. 19, the cemetery will also host its annual Gravediggers Ball. (215-228-8200 or http://thelaurelhillcemetery.org)

"Disasters on the Delaware: Rescues on the River" (Independence Seaport Museum, to 2014) The museum has mounted a long-term show focusing on the collisions, explosions, sinkings, oil spills, and burning piers that have enlivened/endangered life on the Delaware River over the centuries. The stories will be told via surviving wreckage, artifacts, and personal accounts. Also at the busy waterfront museum is "Digging the City: Archaeological Discoveries from the Philadelphia Waterfront" (Friday to Feb. 3). The museum also is presenting artifacts uncovered during the construction of I-95. Evidence of Native American settlements and early European habitation will be on display, as well as artifacts illustrating the rise of Philadelphia as a manufacturing and industrial powerhouse. (215-413-8655 or http://www.phillyseaport.org)

"RIFA: Sky and Water Paintings" (National Museum of American Jewish History, through Dec. 30) The museum is exhibiting 33 paintings by artist Tobi Kahn, who has stated he aims "to encounter the ineffable God in both splendour and intimacy." (215-923-3811 http://www.nmajh.org)

More to enjoy this fall inside local museums, and outside too.

"James Prosek: Ocean Fishes" (The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, Oct. 13-Jan. 21) The academy will be presenting the work of Connecticut artist James Prosek, dubbed the Audubon of the fishing world, in an exhibition featuring his life-size, detailed watercolors, including a rendering of a 15-foot blue marlin. (215-299-1000 or www.ansp.org)

"History, Reflection, and Empowerment" (The African American Museum in Philadelphia, Sept. 25) The museum hosts a panel and community discussion from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on the relationship of African American history to the present day. The evening is held in conjunction with the current exhibition, "Freedom Riders," portraits by Charlotta Janssen focusing on the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955-56 and the 1961 freedom rides. The exhibition closes Sept. 30. (215-574-0380 or http://www.aampmuseum.org)

"Just a Pinch: A Brief and Unofficial History of Jewish Cooking in America" (The National Museum of American Jewish History, Oct. 24 at 6:30 p.m.) Readings by guests, cookbooks from Crisco, Hebrew National Hot Dogs, and Molly Goldberg, and cooking-related ephemera from the museum's collection will take visitors on a savory journey through Jewish cooking in America. The evening is part of "What Is Your Food Worth?", a two-year project exploring the relationship between American Jews and food, presented by the museum, the Feinstein Center for American Jewish History at Temple University, the Gershman Y, and Congregation Rodeph Shalom. (215-923-3811 or http://www.nmajh.org)

Old City Seaport Festival (Independence Seaport Museum and Delaware River waterfront, Oct. 5-7) The museum and a host of partners present a weekend of tall ships, food, music, rowboat races, crafts, pirates, and other emblems of Davy Jones. (215-413-8655 or http://www.phillyseaport.org)  

Philadelphia Shell Show and Festival (The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, Oct. 20-21) The largest shell show in the Northeast features shells of the Americas. Competitive displays, mollusk dissections, and behind-the-scenes peeks at the academy's massive malacology collection, third-largest in the world (that would be a mollusk collection to most everyone who is not an invertebrate zoologist). (215-299-1000 or www.ansp.org)

 

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