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Can a Walled-Off Museum Actually Make Art More Accessible?

While the Philadelphia Museum of Art undergoes some serious construction, a design firm has come up with a beautifully clever solution to hide it: a 450-foot wall decorated with replicated works.

A constructed fence featuring a range of paintings and art
Part of a new constructed wall featuring replicas of famous art sits outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art as it undergoes construction (Courtesy of Pentagram)

Fences are often used as blockades, indicating places people aren’t allowed to go—especially in the current political climate, where the words ‘construction’ and ‘wall’ tend to spell out controversy. But not all walls are created equal or with the same intent, as the wall erected outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art illustrates. This wall, featuring replicated art from Matisse to Warhol, is actually an effort to invite people into the museum.

Traditionally, museum-going has been framed as “high-culture and elitist,” says Paula Scher from the Pentagram design firm, which is behind the project. The point of this fence, she says, “is to disrupt that by making it less intimidating and more enticing to step foot inside.” The wall, which the firm is calling “Constructionism,” serves a practical dual purpose: showcasing the collection and hiding renovations.

In the midst of a $525 million transformation, the museum’s construction efforts are shielded by the 450-foot fence. The project won’t be complete until 2020, and the fence will grow to cover work in progress.

(Courtesy of Pentagram)
(Courtesy of Pentagram)
(Courtesy of Pentagram)

Constructed out of plywood, the wall is also meant to mimic the structure and design of transportation crates. “You can spot red markings on the plywood, as if they were crates we just opened and propped the paintings outside,” Scher adds.

(Courtesy of Pentagram)

The idea of making art more accessible to a city and its dwellers, as Scher points out, isn’t new or radical. The art world and its enthusiasts have experimented with ways to make the medium stretch as far as possible. For Scher, this project isn’t meant to take away from the act of going to the museum. Instead, it’s a simple extension of what a museum is meant to do—which, she says, “is make art accessible to the city.”

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