Though Italy is ground zero for ancient empires, warring gods and further along Renaissance art and innovations, its culture doesn’t stop with da Vinci. Actually,Italy is a gold mine of modern and contemporary art and there are museums and exhibits found throughout the peninsula.
The best place to find all that modern art? Milan.
A throughly modern city, Milan is books and business, avant-garde and worldly. The Milanese pride themselves on being on-trend, fashionable and cosmopolitan and the many spaces that celebrate modern art and contemporary design are highly frequented and well received.
There are plenty of modern art museums in Milan, but none as centrally-located or wholeheartedly Milanese as Museo ‘900.
Museo ‘900 is a museum by the Milanese, for the Milanese.
Created in 2010 entirely thanks to the private collections and generosity of the Milanese, the museum is filled with Italy’s biggest art names of the 20th-century: Boccioni, Balla, Sironi, Lucio Fontana. Italians who were either Milanese by birth or Milanese by choice, who painted and sculpted and created in the city for other members of the city, and it shows.
Most visitors to Milan won’t have enough time to “do it all” and Museo ‘900 rarely makes the cut – I only made it there years after my move to Italy – but there are so many reasons why this modern art museum is worth a visit.
Located in Piazza del Duomo, right next to the massive Duomo that you’ll for sure be visiting anyway, it’s an easy detour on an already well-trod route. Plus it’s cheap: full price tickets cost just 5 euro. Beyond that, it is a thoroughly enjoyable museum. The art is incredible, authentically Italian and important historically, and the structure itself is impressive. With massive, modern windows the outside is striking in and of itself. Inside, you’re greeted by a looming, sea blue spiral ramp that connects all the levels of the museum, from the subway to the viewing terrace on the top floor. It’s organized and architectural and attractive. It’s basically the base line for any good Milanese lifestyle.
The museum is organized in chronological order. On the first floor Picasso hits your eye immediately, following counterclockwise by Matisse, Modigliani, Braque, Kandinsky, Klee and Mondrian, a tribute to the avant-garde artists of the early 1900s. It’s the perfect trailer to entice you to watch more.
From there the building stretches on before you, with massive columns on your left, a high arched ceiling above and painting after painting by Boccioni, Balla and others, an introduction to Italy’s Futurist Movement.
Futurism was an artistic and social movement created in Italy that emphasized all things forward-looking: change, innovation, technology, industry. Urban landscapes and moving objects were most often depicted, such as the car, train or airplane. What better place for futurists than Milan?
Once upon a time Rome was the end-all-be-all, then the port cities like Napoli and Palermo exploded, the Venetian Republic proliferated in the early 14th century and the Renaissance in Florence peaked in the 15th century, but in the beginning of the 20th century, Milan was the place to be.
But Milan served as a muse even in the second wave of futurism and on into the Novecento movement. Sironi’s urban landscape theme solidified when he definitively moved to Milan. Porta Vittoria, where he lived, was an area on the outskirts at the time but also in continuous evolution. It was urbanizing and developing, as seen in the older-style buildings and bright yellow tram leading Milan into the future. Honestly, maybe not much as changed.
As you move your way up through the museum you’ll pass through dedicated spaces for Giorgio de Chirico and others that you may not be familiar with but are worth exploring, such as Giorgio Morandi, Arturo Martini, and Fausto Melotti. Stop in the Novecento room to see the masterpiece that is Donne al caffè (Women at the Café) by Piero Marussig, a wonderful freeze frame into a coffeehouse scene of two middle-class women from the early 1900s.
There are also dedicated spaces for exhibitions as well as notable contemporary Italian artists. The cherry on top, however, is the final floor. There there is currently an exhibition by Lucio Fontana, located underneath the Ceiling, designed and created in 1956 for the dining room of the Hotel del Golfo on Elba Island but the real draw is the view.
The magnificently framed view of the Duomo comes into vision from the ground up as the escalator slowly brings you to the floor.
Standing under Lucio Fontana’s The Neon, a fluorescent spiral lighting sculpture from the 1950s, you can admire Milan’s greatest achievement: marrying the wonders of the past with the beauty of the present. All thanks to the city’s most Milanese of museums.