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The Philadelphia Museum of Art: more than just the Rocky Steps!

The Met has From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the Art Institute of Chicago is linked with Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art will always be tied to the Rocky movies. Of these three, only one openly associates itself year-round with the work of fiction that featured it, and of course that would be the PMA and the Rocky statue that you can find to the right of the famed steps.

Growing up in the area but not in the city itself, we didn’t want to give away our status as suburban tourists by tearing up the steps any time we went there, so instead we would scoff at the people who were doing so. These days, though, I’m less strict on that--if Google Maps is going to label the steps as the Rocky Steps, I’ll take it as a great way to encourage more people to come visit this magnificent collection of art.

The original Diana from the roof of old Penn Station

I love the PMA because it’s one of the easiest-to-navigate art museums I’ve ever visited. Part of that was by design; famously, the architects behind the design knew the city would be content to let the building languish lopsidedly if they started with the center portion before moving onto the wings when the project ran out of money. Instead, they started with the wings first and the city had no choice but to keep funding it.

Pablo Picasso's Three Musicians

When you enter through the west entrance, you’ll be greeted with the sight of the enormous Great Stair Hall, decorated simply with the original Diana from the old Penn Station (it was too large to safely sit on the building’s roof) along with some Calder mobiles hanging from the ceiling. After climbing the stairs, I tend to start from the left as that takes you first through Medieval and Renaissance art (at least through 1500) and then into the Asian Art galleries which are a sight to behold. More European art from 1500 through 1850 can be then found on the right of the great stairs--this will either delight you or bore you to tears eventually--before you should head down to find more modern work.

The Modern and Contemporary collection is by far my favorite, because not only are there some notable pieces by the likes of Picasso, Cezanne, Miro, and Dali, but there’s also rooms dedicated to artists like Duchamp and Cy Twombly. The latter’s inclusion was considered highly controversial at the time, because it seemed unheard of to dedicate so much space in a museum of that caliber to a living artist. The room itself is small, but it houses a series of works inspired by the Iliad. I’ll let you come to your own conclusions about whether or not you feel it fits in with the rest of the artwork on display.

Rodin's The Thinker outside of the Rodin Museum.

There’s more to the museum and the collection than just the main building, as across the street at the Perelman Building you can find prints, drawings, and textiles; further down the Parkway lies the Rodin Museum, which is home to the largest collection of Auguste Rodin’s work outside of Paris. All of these locations are included in the (as of this writing) $20 admission price, which is good for two consecutive days. The first Sunday of the month and every Wednesday evening is Pay What You Wish, which could be a helpful option if you’re traveling with a large group.

In fact, there’s so much to see that you might want to save your run up the steps until after you’ve taken in the rest.

2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway

Philadelphia, PA 19130


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Dec 11, 2023

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