Italy Roundtable: Where to See Modern & Contemporary Art in Italy


Without even knowing yet what my Roundtable cohorts are going to write about, I suspect with a theme like MODERN I’m not the only one who’s going to be talking about art.

Yet with so much ancient and historic artwork on display around Italy, so many famous pieces we all want to see, it’s easy to forget that there’s a great deal of exceptional modern art in Italy, too. At times, in addition to being a wonderful cultural experience, visiting a contemporary art gallery in Italy can also allow visitors to escape the crowds. And who doesn’t love that?

Italy is synonymous with history. We go to Rome and Naples to see remnants of an ancient civilization. We celebrate festivals like the Palio in Siena that have taken place for centuries. We visit Florence’s museums to marvel at the handiwork of great masters whose sculptures and paintings are still remarkable hundreds of years after they were created.

But there’s a modern side of Italy, too, including some exceptional contemporary art galleries that any art lover should have on his or her must-see list. Here are just a few of the places you can see modern and contemporary art in Italy.

Brief sidebar: There are a number of fabulous street artists at work in cities all over Italy, creating everything from huge eye-catching murals on the sides of buildings to clever edits on Italian road signs. This is all contemporary art, too, so keep your eyes peeled as you walk through Italian cities. Italy’s street art is a whole other topic, but it’s some of the most interesting art you might see in the country.

There are affiliate links below, which means I get a little something if you book one of these tours – but it won’t cost you anything extra. Thanks.


Support by Lorenzo Quinn || creative commons photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbera

Support by Lorenzo Quinn || creative commons photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbera

I am by no means a modern art expert, but I’d argue that Venice is among the best places to go in Italy if you’re interested in modern and contemporary art. This is mostly due to the Venice Biennale. Held from May-November in odd-numbered years, the Biennale festival draws artists and art lovers from all over the world. Installations go up throughout the city (the image above is my favorite installation from the 2017 edition), in pavilions in the Biennale Gardens and even some churches and other venues.

If you’re not visiting during a Biennale year, however, head straight for the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. A long-time resident of Venice, Guggenheim decorated her villa on the Grand Canal with pieces by well-known artists she knew (and, in one case, married). After she died in 1979, the villa and was opened to the public, and the renowned collection has been growing ever since.


Triennale exhibit || creative commons photo by Fred Romero

Triennale exhibit || creative commons photo by Fred Romero

One of my most pleasant surprises in Milan was the first time I visited the Triennale di Milano on the edge of Parco Sempione. I didn’t think I’d get much from a museum dedicated to Italian design history, but it turned out to be fascinating. The focus is on design, architecture, and – yes – contemporary art, and when you’re done with the museum stop into the lovely cafe for a break before your next stop.

A more traditional collection of modern art in Milan is at the Museo del Novecento. “Novecento” translates to mean the 20th century, which is the era featured in this museum in the Palazzo dell’Argengario near the Duomo. Bonus? The Giacomo Arengario restaurant atop the building housing the museum offers one of the best views in Milan – right onto the Piazza del Duomo and the facade of the iconic cathedral.


MAXXI || creative commons photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbera

MAXXI || creative commons photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbera

Perhaps the best-known modern art museum in Rome is MAXXI (the Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo), but as far as I can tell the building itself is most of the appeal – not the art inside. Celebrated architect Zaha Hadid designed the museum, which was finished in 2010, and the collection includes photography and architecture elements in addition to 21st-century art.

Rome’s only contemporary art gallery is the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Roma, or MACRO, a much smaller venue in what used to be a beer production facility. MACRO also has space for working artists.


GAM exhibit || creative commons photo by Carla Massimetti

GAM exhibit || creative commons photo by Carla Massimetti

The oldest collection of modern art in Italy is in Turin at the Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, also known simply as GAM. Founded in the mid-1800s, the museum now has a remarkable 4,500 pieces in its collection from the 19th century through the present.


MADRE installation || creative commons photo by ho visto nina volare

MADRE installation || creative commons photo by ho visto nina volare

After you’ve spent time in Naples‘ must-see National Archaeological Museum, head for the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina, or MADRE. This contemporary art museum was opened in 2005 and quickly became one of the best such museums in Italy. Despite its stellar reputation, MADRE risked being shut down entirely a few times, which is all the more reason to pay a visit and support them.

Other Voices at the Italy Roundtable

Check out what my cohorts are talking about this month! Click along with me through to the following links to read each of their posts – and please leave comments, share them with your friends, and tune in next month for another Italy Blogging Roundtable topic!

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4 responses to “Italy Roundtable: Where to See Modern & Contemporary Art in Italy”

  1. Is that ‘More than meets the eye’ written on the museum building in Rome ? Just as you said, that’s art in itself.

  2. Love the big hands holding up the building in Venice! When it’s done well, I like seeing modern art in Italy. The contrast can be refreshing.

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