Following the recent temporary closures mandated to limit the spread of COVID-19, in effect since November 20, 2020, Pennsylvania's Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, the Barnes Foundation, The Franklin Institute, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), and the Philadelphia Museum of Art have jointly announced plans to reopen in January with continued health and safety measures in place for staff and visitors. Eastern State Penitentiary plans to reopen in March and the Rodin Museum will reopen later in the spring. Visit each institution's website for visitor guidelines.
The Barnes Foundation opens to the public on Friday, January 8, and has extended Elijah Pierce’s America (through Martin Luther King Jr. Day, January 18, 2021), a landmark exhibition featuring the rich and varied sculpture of woodcarver Elijah Pierce (1892–1984). This is the first major retrospective of Pierce’s work to be presented outside his home city of Columbus, Ohio, for more than 25 years. (An exhibition catalogue is available.)
Born on a farm in Baldwyn, Mississippi, Pierce joined the Great Migration and settled in Columbus, Ohio, in 1924. After years spent working as a barber and preacher, in 1954 he opened his own barbershop, which became a social hub and functioned as his studio. Pierce created a unique body of work over the course of 50 years, producing his virtuoso woodcarvings in moments between cutting hair. His work features remarkable narratives—religious parables, autobiographical scenes, episodes from American politics, and includes figures from sports and film, with subjects ranging from Richard Nixon to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and from Hank Aaron to Warren Beatty. Pierce once said, “I’d carve anything that was a picture in my mind. I thought a pocketknife was about the best thing I’d ever seen.”
Philadelphia Museum of Art will open Friday, January 8. The museum recently released American Furniture 1650–1840: Highlights from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, co-published and distributed by Yale University Press (also available on Amazon). It is the first publication dedicated to one of the finest collections of early American furniture in the United States and underscores the leading role of Philadelphia’s artisans and patrons who profoundly shaped early American furniture design. The richly-illustrated book, written by curator Alexandra Kirtley, was published in anticipation of the opening of the new galleries for the display and interpretation of American Art from the early colonial period to the mid-nineteenth century, part of an ambitious master plan by architect Frank Gehry to rejuvenate the museum’s iconic Main Building, to be unveiled.
Also, ahead in early 2021 is the exhibition Painting Identity, exploring how American artists like Barkley Hendricks, Alice Neel, and Jacob Lawrence used portraiture to frame their perceptions of people, experiment with techniques, and reflect upon social issues.
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts plans to open on Thursday, January 21, with the world-premiere of three exhibitions: Taking Space, Only Tony, and Roll, Press, Pull. Taking Space: Contemporary Women Artists and the Politics of Scale examines the approaches of women artists for whom space is a critical feature of their work, whether they take the space on a wall, the real estate of a room through sculpture and installation, engage seriality as a spatial visual practice, cast a wide legacy in art history or claim the space of their body. Featured artists include Louise Nevelson, Faith Ringgold, Betye Saar, Elizabeth Murray, and more. Only Tony: Portraits by Gilbert Lewis presents an exhibition of approximately 25 paintings by the beloved Philadelphia artist Gilbert Lewis (b. 1945).
Also, the exhibition Awakened in You, featuring the gift to PAFA of more than seventy artworks by African American artists from the collection of American educator and arts advocate Constance E. Clayton, has been extended to May 23, 2021.
The Franklin Institute reopens Wednesday, January 6, with the world-premiere exhibition, Crayola IDEAworks: The Creativity Exhibition, opening February 13.
Academy of Natural Sciences reopens Friday, January 8, with Permian Monsters: Life Before the Dinosaurs.
In a joint statement, the cultural leaders said:“With the advent of a new year, we are grateful for the opportunity to welcome our visitors once again. Despite the continued challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the resilience of the cultural sector shines through and cultural experiences remain essential to the well-being of the human spirit, providing inspiration, enrichment, and rejuvenation. Undoubtedly, the role of Philadelphia’s museums and cultural organizations will be a critical one in the region’s recovery.”