“Rocky Balboa’s” Museum of Art – Philadelphia

Genie Davis October 22, 2011 No Comments

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Okay, technically we’re talking about the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but my kids wanted to see this world class art institute initially because of its prominence in Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky movies. Yes, this is where Rocky jogged up those long, long steps and looked triumphantly out over the city. It’s also where a bronze statue of Rocky stands, just to the side of the museum in a grassy alcove. We waited in a longer line for a photo op there than we did to get into the actual museum.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art

Yes, those are the same steps Rocky Balboa ran up - The Philadelphia Museum of Art

The museum has a wonderful collection which kids of all ages will enjoy, and those steps — they’re a lot of fun for kids to run up. You’ll want to avoid that front entrance if you’ve got a stroller in tow, however!

The museum has over two hundred galleries, featuring two hundred thousand art objects: a vast collection of sculptures, impressionist paintings, modern art, and antique furniture, glass work, and even armor. Your children will love feeling completely transported – and so will you – by huge installations of European churches, a Japanese tea house, a medieval cloister dating from the tenth century, and an Indian temple featuring brass sculptures from the Chola Dynasty. We felt as if we were actually in these locations, rather than just seeing exhibits. The spaciousness of the galleries is one of the most impressive things about this fine museum collection; and children of all ages will enjoy roaming the vast space. The complete period rooms offer a round-the-world look at diverse cultures and the art each culture created. Our kids were particularly taken by the recreations of medieval church alters – followed by a stroll through modern art galleries with neon and mobile sculptures. What a contrast.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is the third largest museum in the nation, and its holdings range from the Renaissance to Philadelphia-born artist Thomas Eakins and works by self-taught and naive artists. There are eighty some period rooms to browse. Walk from an English drawing room to a monastery and be prepared for your jaw to drop. At age three, my daughter dropped down on her knees to offer up a prayer – she thought she’d entered a church in the monastery room. I think that’s what makes this art museum so special, the combination of fine art and display rooms so vivid that one feels truly a part of another place and time upon entering them. Adults will be captivated, children of all ages will be completely absorbed.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art installation rooms

Are we in another century, in France, or are we still in Philly? One of the museum's classic art installation rooms.

My children have always loved this type of installation art, and there’s a special gift in the displays here, both in regard to variety and the space allowed for the settings. Outside of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City – where crowds and sheer size can be daunting for small children and families – there are few institutions that allot the space and serenity to these period rooms and installations. That alone is a reason to seek out this museum.

And about that modern art – small children will enjoy the color, contrasts, and the open minded sprinkling of three dimensional, ultra contemporary pieces alongside more traditional works; adults will appreciate the wonderful mix of  Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Cy Twombly, and Jasper Johns, to name a few. The curatorial staff has done a fine job of displaying the varied work; it would be hard for a small child, a teen, or a seasoned adult art buff to get bored here.

When its time to take a breather outside, the view is also grand, as the museum is perched on a rise at the far end of Benjamin Franklin Parkway. This part of Philadelphia was designed to mirror the Champs Elysees in Paris, and it does an estimable job with elegant fountains and green space stretching toward a view of city center skyscrapers.

The museum itself was built with an eye to grandeur: during an 1876 centennial, it housed decorative arts. When its collection outgrew its space in what was then Memorial Hall, the current Greek-temple design was created by the University of Pennsylvania’s first African American architecture graduate, a design inspired by Grecian temples he’d visited. It opened in 1928 . Who knows what the splendors of “Rocky’s Museum” will inspire in your children.

And speaking of Rocky – no visit to this art institution would be complete without a chance to pose beneath the triumphant arms of the Rocky statue in its green alcove. Even the Travelocity gnome has stopped by.

Lunch stop: from browsing fine art to grazing fine food. Children love small plates, and tapas are an excellent example of this type of dining experience. Amada Restaurant, located in 217-219 Chestnut Street in the heart of the oldest core of Philadelphia, is a large restaurant filled with young professionals and, yes, families. The small plates and their rich flavors are so appealing that small children won’t ask exactly what they’re eating when they try thinly sliced Manchego cheese topped with honey, flavorful fava beans, green plantain empanadas, and seafood paella.  All presented at prices reasonable to the pocketbook, in artful style, offering tiny tastes is almost as transporting as all that art.

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling. www.geniedavis.com

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