‘Constructionism’ at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Signage & Environmental Graphics

An installation of masterworks transforms a construction fence into an outdoor gallery that surrounds the Museum expansion project by Frank Gehry.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art has begun construction on a major renovation and transformation by the architect Frank Gehry that will enable the Museum to display more of its world-renowned collection. Pentagram has designed Constructionism, an installation that doubles as a construction fence that will surround sections of the museum exterior and grounds during the project. The installation transforms the fence into an impromptu outdoor gallery showing reproductions of a variety of works, showcasing the permanent collection and reminding the public that the Museum is still open and accessible.

The design of the 450-foot-long fence is inspired by stacked canvasses, gallery scaffolding and art transportation crates. The installation features approximately 75 works and includes paintings, works on paper, photographs, decorative arts, and textiles. Each reproduction is stretched on its own frame and leans against the wall, as it would in a gallery waiting to be installed.

The pieces are loosely arranged in groupings that appear random but have been curated to create surprising combinations that offer a visual dialogue between works. For instance, three portraits painted in very different styles may appear together, inviting comparisons. The artworks are reproduced in varying sizes, with the largest about 10 by 11 feet. Some pieces are enlarged, and the scale of works varies, but the relative scale has been considered.

The fence will remain in place for the duration of the Core Project, which is scheduled for completion in 2020. The featured works may be switched out over time to highlight different aspects of the collection or to promote special events and exhibitions. The fence runs along Anne d’Harnoncourt Drive and and the northwest and southwest exteriors and entrances, and sections may be moved as construction progresses. The Core Project is the latest phase of the Museum’s master plan and will create 90,000 sq ft of new public space, including 23,000 of new gallery space, all within the existing building envelope.

The wall is made of plywood and leans at a slight angle, so the reproductions can rest against the 8-foot-high wall. The pieces are printed on exterior grade vinyl and stretched around metal frames, giving them the appearance of canvas stretched on wood, but better able to withstand the elements.

In addition to the artworks, the fence features messaging such as “Behind these walls, we’re creating your museum experience,” along with information about the expansion project. The graphics are painted in stenciled typography and icons inspired by art crates, and build on the visual language of the Museum identity, designed by Pentagram in 2014. Typography is set in a stenciled version of Avenir, the PMA typeface. Pentagram is currently designing a comprehensive program of signage and wayfinding for the Museum that will launch with the expansion in 2020.

The new installation also ties into Inside Out, an ongoing initiative by the Museum with the support of the Knight Foundation that brings high-quality reproductions of art into communities throughout the city and region.

New York
Paula Scher
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