Philadelphia doesn’t have a gallery district (a la NYC’s Chelsea) as far as I could tell. However, the city more than makes up for it with a gorgeous and vibrant amalgam of street murals, mosaics, folk and visionary art, the most exquisite Victorian Gothic architecture and, of course, the new Barnes is not to be missed.
Here are my top picks:
Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens (1020 South Street)
This was recommended to us by Warren Muller of bahdeebahdu and I am so thrilled that we followed his advice. This is an example of the best of the best when it comes to folk and “visionary art.”
The Magic Gardens span three city lots, and include indoor galleries and a large outdoor labyrinth. The mosaics are made up of everything from kitchen tiles to bike wheels, Latin-American art to china plates. It is the largest work created by mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar. (See more of the work at the very end of this post.)
Isaiah and his wife Julia moved to South Street in 1968, when the area was being slated for demolition to build a new expressway. They opened the Eyes Gallery at 402 South Street, which was the first property that Isaiah would mosaic. He bought the building that currently houses Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens in 1994. In 2002, he purchased two vacant lots next door and “Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens” was born.
Read on below for PAFA, the Barnes and photos of some of the best street art we found during our neighborhood explorations – as well as additional photos of the Magic Gardens.
PAFA – Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (118-128 N. Broad Street)
For whatever reason, I did not want to visit this museum but Mindy kept pushing and I am so happy she did. This is an exquisite building, the art is beautifully installed and I love the mix of older pieces in combination with a select group of contemporary works e.g. Kehinde Wiley’s Three Wise Men.
The building is considered one of the finest surviving examples of Victorian Gothic architecture in America. The Grand Stairhall with its staircase, bordered by richly tiled floor and walls, and bronze and mahogany banisters is spectacular.
The space is ringed with gothic arches and gold rosette-studded walls. The vaulted ceiling is painted a brilliant blue with silver stars.
The Barnes Foundation (2025 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy)
I had been to the original Barnes in Lower Merion years ago and was super excited that we were able to arrange a private docent tour of this new, spectacular space that elevates the work and made it seem very fresh to me. (Thank you Thom Collins!!)
Unfortunately no photos from the galleries (strictly verboten!) – which is too bad.
The Barnes collection includes 181 paintings by Renoir, 69 by Cézanne, 59 by Matisse, and 46 by Picasso. Additionally, the collection includes works by Soutine, Rousseau, Modigliani, Degas Van Gogh and Seurat. My favorites are the Chiricos and the Matisse Dance triptych that Barnes commissioned Matisse to do specifically for the original space.
The collection displays different types of items and works in “wall ensembles”, which allow comparison and study of works from various time periods, geographic areas, and styles. I am not particularly fond of the way Barnes decided to display his works but it is what it is.
And then there are the murals, street art and even more building mosaics that I believe were all done by Isaiah Zagar.
MORE PHOTOS OF MAGIC GARDENS: