What happens when you drop art in unexpected places

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Jiah-Dae Felder, friends Isabella and Ariel, and their mother Marybeth Yuce take a break from selfies to pose with Diego Rivera’s sugar cane workers on the Manayunk canal towpath.

Luke Bradley may be only 2½, but he knows fine art when he sees it.

Especially when the art in question, a whimsical 1925 painting, Fish Magic, by Paul Klee, is planted at the edge of his local park.

“You like that picture, don’t you?” says Luke’s dad, Tom Bradley, slowing the stroller — which also holds 5-month-old Camille — in front of Gold Star Park in the East Passyunk neighborhood on a recent afternoon.

Turns out Luke has seen Fish Magic before, in a book, A Is for Art Museum, that his parents like to read aloud. “What do you see in that picture?” Bradley prompts. Luke murmurs something; his dad leans close. “A moon? Flowers? You see a duck?”

Fish Magic, apparently, is open to broad interpretation. And that’s part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s aim in creating Inside Out: Art in Unexpected Places, a project, now in its third year, to place reproductions of well-known works from the museum’s collection in neighborhoods around the city.

“The goal is to bring masterpieces into these communities…and have these unexpected interactions with the pieces,” says Sophie Don, Inside Out coordinator for the museum. “It’s a fun, new way of looking at art.”

This year, Inside Out returned to some neighborhoods that had warmly embraced the project in  years past. The art, 44 pieces framed and coated with submarine-grade waterproofing, will remain in Media, Manayunk, East Passyunk, and Haddonfield through mid-August; in the fall, Inside Out will go to Glenside, Lansdowne, Brewerytown, and Old City.

In Haddonfield — boxed water, yoga studios, kombucha on tap — it was a classic Virgin and Child painted in the 17th century by José Jusepe de Ribera that caught the attention of Christina Di Sanzo as she passed First Presbyterian Church. “It’s very mysterious,” she said, moving closer to examine the image of a blue-cloaked Mary cradling a chubby-fingered child. “It’s mystical. Who was the painter? I’m not familiar with him, but probably there was a muse he had in mind.”

The pairing — a painting of the Madonna and child on a church lawn — was no accident, Don said. Inside Out coordinators worked with neighborhood groups, business owners, local leaders, and clergy members to select and place the art in each neighborhood.

Main Street Music in Manayunk requested Jackie (Four Jackies) by Andy Warhol, a 1964 pop art pastiche of Jacqueline Kennedy in postures of exuberance, shock, and grief. Pat’s King of Steaks wanted the smoky-eyed Portrait of a Roman Lady (La Nanna) to gaze from across the street. Several communities sought Beauford Delaney’s Portrait of James Baldwin, which ended up on the south side of Columbus Square Park in East Passyunk.

“The leaders we worked with were able to choose their artworks and locations, to essentially curate their own exhibitions,” Don said. “It’s a really diverse collection — different artists, different places, different time periods.”

In some places, the art becomes commentary on the setting: Still Life with a Ham and a Roemer, with its hyperreal depiction of a lemon peel that seems to spiral from the frame, underscores our modern foodie fixation when it hangs just outside the Manayunk Brewing Co.

At other sites, the paintings provide counterpoint. Outside the Delaware County Courthouse in Media, lawyers cluster in sober conversation; not one of them glances at the wide panorama — jagged peaks and tousled foliage — of Cezanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire.

A few blocks away, across from the municipal parking garage, a painting by Winslow Homer depicts the rescue of a woman from fierce, foaming waves. Erin Sparacio first noticed it on Mother’s Day, when her 7-year-old daughter commented, “The sea looks really angry.”

She leans in to see the title. “The Life Line. When I see pictures that include the ocean, I’m always overwhelmed by how strong the water is.” Sparacio loves coming across art in her daily walks. “It’s fabulous. The art comes to you instead of you having to go to it. You stumble upon it — it feels like you found something.”

At the nearby Trader Joe’s, shoppers clatter red carts up and down the store ramp, a few stopping to examine Present Futures by Moe Brooker, a 2006 abstract with chalklike scribbles over splotches of vivid cobalt, red, and yellow.

Austin Kreeger, 18, a clerk at the store, offers a thumbnail commentary before heading back to work. “Looking at the center, with all the blotches, makes me think of a sunset. Or maybe a sunrise. Those phantasmas of color could represent a celebration. Or fireworks. This is my first time analyzing it.”

The Inside Out project includes an Instagram contest June 9-12 (in conjunction with museums in Akron, Ohio; Detroit; Charlotte, N.C.; and Miami that also host Inside Out) and a weekend in July when residents of all Philly-area Inside Out neighborhoods current and past can visit the museum free. Maps on the Art Museum website help viewers navigate the art in each locale, or they can curate their own serendipitous art-crawl as they head to the library, the hair salon, or the park.

“People are shopping, wandering around, having lunch — maybe they look up or walk by and see Sunflowers [van Gogh] or the Dali [Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War)],” Don says. “Perhaps it will inspire someone to come visit the museum or start a conversation on the street.”

In the fading light of a Tuesday evening, Marybeth Yuce of Ardmore is snapping cellphone photos of her just-turned-15 daughter Isabella, her other daughter Ariel, and their friend Jiah-Dae. Suddenly, she notices an unfamiliar addition to Manayunk’s canal towpath: Diego Rivera’s Sugar Cane.

“Shame on me!” Yuce exclaims. “Look how beautiful this is! I would have missed it entirely. Girls, look!”

“I know who Diego Rivera is,” one of the girls grumbles. But they cluster in front of the painting nonetheless — a dressed-for-selfies quartet in front of the barefoot, papaya-toting campesinos — and smile for the camera.