Hidden in plain sight: Philadelphia as the center of the American avant-garde

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Philadelphia was the heart of the American avant-garde in the 1960s and ’70s, according to the new art exhibition “Invisible City.”

The wide-ranging show, put together by the University of the Arts’ Sid Sachs, spreads across three campus buildings — the Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery, Gershman Hall, and the Philadelphia Art Alliance in Rittenhouse Square — plus a fourth location at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, or PAFA.

The exhibition brings together objects from a spectrum of disciplines — including sculpture, painting, architecture, music, performance, furniture, literature and conceptual art — to trace a network of creative thinking across many sectors of the city.

This was the era when Marcel Duchamp surprised the art world by unveiling his last major installation, “Étant donnés,” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Tyler School of Art was expanding and exploring new materials, and David Lebe was pushing the limits of photography at UArts.

The University of Pennsylvania brought groundbreaking composers George Crumb and Karl Stockhausen into its music department at the same time it was transforming its architecture school with Louis Kahn, Ian McHarg and Robert Venturi.

The Institute of Contemporary Art was created at this time at UPenn, pulling in major contemporary artists for teaching and residency positions.

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