Home of one of the most well known ancient empires in the world, we don’t typically associate Italy with modern sights.
Of course we come to Italy to see the ancient monuments, the chiaroscuro in Renaissance art and Medieval hill towns.
But Italy didn’t end when the ancient Roman’s lost power. It didn’t end after the plague. It didn’t end when wars between different city-states threatened the Renaissance’s great rebirth and neither after WWII.
Italy continues on today and it continues to add to its long history of artisans and artists. Of exploration and culture.
Maybe religious Renaissance art isn’t your thing. Maybe you want to see a country that doesn’t just rest on its laurels.
Then you should seek out modern art in Italy.
Because one of the most cultured countries in the world would never overlook its more recent contributions, whether personal or collected and curated from abroad.
Here’s where you can find modern art in Italy, from North to South:
Museo d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea (Museion)
Located in Bolzano in the Dolomite mountains, Museion is an enormous cube with transparent front and back facades, apparently symbolizing the link between the two cultural backgrounds of Bolzano, Italian and German. Beyond the unique structure, the museum houses more than 4,500 works of art worth seeing and a massive library specializing in modern art and design.
Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea
Torino’s GAM (also called the Civic Gallery) was the first and is likely the oldest modern art collection in Italy, founded in the late 1800s. From the website: “Comprising a collection of 45,000 works spanning a period from the nineteenth century to the present day, with its paintings, sculptures, works on paper, installations, videos and photographs, the GAM offers its audience a wealth of events ranging from major exhibitions of Italian and international artists to highly contemporary research dedicated to a young audience.” Here you can find work by Canova, Klee, Fontana and Warhol as well as lectures and well-curated temporary exhibitions.
Castello di Rivoli
The Rivoli Castle, once a residence of the Savoy family, has recently added to its contemporary art collection the £450 million collection of a recently deceased Turin resident. Go to tour the more than 300 works of modern art then add some extra time for the medieval, Old Master paintings and temporary exhibitions. Most notable is “Novecento,” the taxidermied horse hanging from the castle’s ceiling by Maurizio Cattelan.
Museo del Novecento
Located in the Arengario, where Mussolini drew huge crowds to hear him speak, the Museo ‘900 was founded in 2010 to serve as a hub of20th century art history and a place of dialogue with contemporary art. Dedicated entirely to 20th century art, the entire museum is organized chronologically. Starting in 1902, you’ll pass through international avant-garde movements with Picasso, Georges Braque, Paul Klee, Kandinsky, and Amedeo Modigliani. On to Futurism with Umberto Boccioni, Giacomo Balla and others. To the Italian novecento, Abstract Art, space for notable Italian artists then Arte Povera, Pop Art and large-scale installations. It’s also one of the best views of the Duomo in the entire Piazza!
Read more about Milan’s beautiful Museo del Novecento
Triennale di Milano
This contemporary art space is dedicated entirely to Italian design. Go to see motorbikes and lamps, chairs and other things that I personally don’t understand but are some of the most prominent exemplars in the sector. The space is an international cultural institution that produces and hosts exhibitions, conferenced and events of art, design, architecture, fashion and cinema. Located in Parco Sempione, it’s alo easy to reach and interesting to see in and of itself, as the building was awarded the Gold Medal for Italian Architecture in 2003.
Galleria d’Arte Moderna Milano
Located in Milan’s Villa Reale, GAM is the most prominent collection of Lombard art from the 1800s. The Modern Art Gallery of Milan, the collection also includes Italian and European art from the 18th to the 19th centuries with work by Van Gogh, Manet, Cezanne, Umberto Boccioni, Francesco Hayes and many more. The 20th century works have since been moved to the Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea which is another location to see contemporary art in Milan.
Adjacent to the Museo ‘900 and across from the Duomo, the Palazzo Reale is the home of the Civic Museum of Contemporary Art. The massive structure hosts about a dozen different temporary exhibits each year, with multiple showing at one time. Though you might be on a trip to Italy, take advantage of Milan’s clout to see international renowned artists. Not all are contemporary of course, but there is usually at least one 20th-century artists featured such as Keith Haring or Pablo Picasso.
Mudec is one of Milan’s newest art spaces, opened in 2015. Though the permanent collection isn’t modern, the temporary exhibitions are often from the 20th and 21st centuries. I’ve seen an exhibition of Frida Kahlo and Kandinsky, for example.
Venice and Verona
Biennale di Venezia
Started in 1895, the Biennale di Venezia was the first Biennale Art Exposition in the world. Today the Biennale is a way to promote new artistic movements and trends and it’s still going strong. The Art and Architecture Biennials are held in alternating years, but there is also the International Art Exhibitions, the International Festival of Contemporary Music, the International Theater Festival, the International Festival of Contemporary Dance and the Venice Film Festival, which actually runs every year and not every other.
Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Located in the former Guggenheim residence along the Grand Canal and home to the heiress’ large private art collection. The house itself is an 18th-century palace which was Guggenheim’s home for three decades. The Peggy Guggenheim collection is filled with Italian futurists and international modernists such as Pollock, Klee, Dali, Giacometti, De Chirico and Max Ernst (her ex-husband). Honestly, the list goes on. With Cubism, Surrealism and abstract expressionism genres all represented, it’s a modern-art dream and the second most visited site in Venice.
International Gallery of Modern Art in Ca’ Pesaro
Located in a beautiful villa facing the Canal Grande, Ca’ Pesaro is the seat of Venice’s Modern Art Gallery of 19th and 20th-century paintings and sculptures, including work by Klimt and Klee, Bonnard and Chagall and sculptures by Rodin and Medardo Rosso. The itinerary is chronological with a theme on the Venetian taste for 20th-century art.
On the third floor there is also the Museum of Oriental Art which is included in the ticket price.
Located on the island of Giudecca, this contemporary art gallery shows work of rising local and international artists in all mediums. It’s the first stop for new talents to be seen and an unpretentious visit for contemporary art lovers.
Punta della Dogana
Punta della Dogana is a super young art museum located in a super old Venetian building. Located in between the Grand and Giudecca Canals in the Dorsoduro district, the museum is a collection of art from Pinault, a French fashion magnate, one of the largest private collections of the 20th and 21st centuries. There are pieces by Jeff Koons, Dan Flavin, and Rachel Whiteread, as well as rotating exhibitions.
Galleria d’Arte Moderna
Verona’s Gallery of Modern Art located in the 13th-century Palazzo Forti got its start in 1982 with various important contemporary art exhibitions. Over the years it was able to build its own permanent collection through donations and acquisitions and opened as a permanent museum in 2006 with names like Francisco Hayez, Giorgio Morandi and many local Veronese artists as well.
Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art
Technically located in Trento and Rovereto, slightly outside of Verona, MART is the contemporary art space that every town wishes it had. With nearly 54,000 square feet of exhibition space and some 20,000 works of art that journey through the last 150 years of art history, you could spend an entire day exploring the collection. There are also archives, an educational program and a library.
Museum of Contemporary Art Villa Croce, Genoa
Located in a villa with sweeping sea views and surrounded by a public park, Villa Croce has more than 3,000 abstract art works, primarily from Italian artists of the late 20th century. An entire floor is dedicated to temporary exhibitions that usually highlight young and/or emerging artists as well as multi-media exhibitions with music, cinema, theater and literature. Not only that, but the museum is free!
Technically titled the Biennale Internazionale Dell’Arte Contemporanea, The Florence Biennale was only started in 1997 but has become the principle exhibition space for contemporary art in the city. Running sometime in October every other year, roughly 400 artists are selected by a jury committee to show their work at the historic Fortezza da Basso in the north of the city. Differently from the Venice Biennale where the government bears the cost, the Florence Biennale costs are paid for directly from the artists itself, bringing about a wealth of criticism. That said, hundreds of artists participate each year in calligraphy and design, sculpture, ceramics, textile arts, photography, multimedia art and more.
Florence’s Museo Novecento is unique in that it’s set up in reverse chronological order, starting with art from the nineties back to the beginning of the 20th century. Along with the three hundred works in 15 exhibition rooms, there’s also a studio, a cabinet of drawings and prints and multimedia stations that accompany many of the pieces. Finally, the visit ends with a look at Florence as a setting in international cinema
Galleria d’Arte Moderna
Florence’s GAM located on the second floor of the Pitti Palace comprises 30 rooms organized chronologically from Neoclassicism to the 1920’s. Beyond the many paintings like the “The two Foscari” by Francesco Hayez, there are also notable sculptures like “Calliope” by Antonio Canova.
Aria Art Gallery
Aria Art Gallery is an indoor/outdoor space in the heart of Florence. Preceded by a tropical garden from 1534, it’s also possibly one of the coolest locations on the list. Here there are exhibitions, art fairs and other events, as well as a permanent collection with contemporary masters such as Rodin, Modigliani and Warhol. There are also seems to be a location in London and one in Istanbul.
Luigi Pecci Center for Contemporary Art
One of the few museums in Italy built specifically for that purpose, and not located in an already-existing building, the Luigi Pecci Center is a true cultural center and exhibition space. Located about 20 minutes outside of Florence in the city of Prato, the center houses more than 1,000 works from the 1960s to today from paintings, sculptures, cinema and video works to art installations, art books, photographs and graphics.
Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo
Italy’s national museum of 21st century art – known as MAXXI – the building itself is a work of art. Designed by Zaha Hadid, the enormous structure covers 290,626 square feet and houses more than 300 works of contemporary art and sculptures from across the world as well as approximately 50,000 architecture designs and some 25,000 photographs, split between MAXXI Art and MAXXI Architecture. There is an auditorium, library, media archives, bookstore, restaurant and temporary exposition rooms and a large outdoor piazza occasionally used as a stage for opera and other live events. Note: the museum is closed on Mondays.
Museo d’Arte Contemporanea
Often considered the “little sister” of MAXXI, MACRO focuses on international art but also holds exhibitions by local and international artists. It might be the little sister, but it’s definitely the hip sister with two locations, one in an ex-beer factory in the center and another in an ex-slaughterhouse in the hip Testaccio neighborhood. A hang-out joint for artists and art enthusiasts, go here if you want something unique.
Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna
Rome’s National Gallery of Modern Art is home to one of the largest collections of modern Italian art in the world. Located in the Palazzo delle Belle Arti, it’s an easy stop while touring the Borghese Gardens and the Parioli neighborhood. GNAM’s most impressive collection is of Italian artists like Amedeo Modigliani, Giorgio Morandi and Giorgio de Chirico, but it also has a smaller collection of international artists such as Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, and Auguste Rodin, among others.
Galleria d’Arte Moderna
With a strikingly similar name as the abovementioned GNAM, Rome’s GAM is Rome’s municipal museum of modern and contemporary art with approximately 3,000 works total, 150 on display, of Italian artists from Symbolism to Realism, Divisionism to Expressionism. It’s housed in a thoroughly restored 17th-century cloistered monastery.
Collezione d’arte Religiosa Moderna, Vatican City
Within the Vatican Museums there are 55 rooms dedicated to modern religious art. In fact, it’s the world’s largest collection of modern religious art with names like Gauguin, Rodin and Kandinsky. You can find them in the Borgia Apartment, in a series of rooms on the ground floor and others below the Sistine Chapel. You might not expect modern art among the massive collection of the Vatican Museums, but it’s just another reason to give yourself plenty of time to explore!
Donnaregiona Museum of Contemporary Art (MADRE), Naples
Most commonly known as the Museo MADRE, it’s considered one of the best destinations for contemporary art lovers in Italy. Madre is three floors of modern art in the heart of Naples with artists like Andy Warhol, Lucio Fontana, Jeff Koons and Mimmo Paladino.
Palace for the Arts
The second most popular gallery of modern and contemporary art in the city, the PAN collection is held in a 6,000 meter 18th-century palazzo in a fancy part of town. The venue does not have a permanent collection, but hosts exhibitions, research opportunities and leading arts in painting, sculpture, architecture, photography, design, cinema and more. It’s worth it to check ahead to see what initiative, event or conference is being held before visiting.
Museum of Contemporary Sculpture of Matera (MUSMA)
Home of Italy’s most infamous rock carved village and one of the most ancient cities in the world, Matera’s MUSMA is the most important sculptural museum in all of Italy. According to the website, “The Museum of Contemporary Sculpture maintains not only a permanent collection of the work of international sculptures, but also hosts changing exhibitions in its efforts to explore the artistic language of our times.” The museum was partially inspired by the idea that an ancient town carved into the rock is the perfect place to present modern sculpture, marrying the past to the present.
Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Palermo
The beautifully restored Sant’Anna ex-convent is the perfect backdrop for Palermo’s collection of modern art. Palermo’s GAM houses more than 200 paintings and sculptures on display ranging from romanticism to realism to the fruitful season of Italy’s Novecento movement. Divided into 14 thematic groups, the focus is on the “evolution of Italian figurative arts in the period between the 19th and the 20th centuries,” showing the influence national artists had on Modernist Palermo. Here you can find work by Mario Sironi, Giuseppe Sciuti, Renato Guttuso and two sculptures by Giorgio de Chirico acquired in the last decade.
Museo d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea RISO, Palermo
The Riso Contemporary Art Museum of Sicily, known as Riso after the 18th-century structure where it’s located, is a widely acclaimed exhibition space covering a wide range of disciplines with particular emphasis on young artists, both Italian and foreign.
Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Sicilia, Catania
The museum itself is located in the Badia Piccola of the Saint Benedict Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritiage Site and top sight to see. In fact, MacS is described in reviews as a calm oasis in a bustling city, and its exquisite lighting is also mentioned more than once. With a range of Sicilian as well as greater Italian and even international artists, the goal is still to promote Sicily’s rich cultural heritage.