When in Rome, it’s not all about the old. Though the city has an incredible and limitless lineup of museums devoted to Italy’s ancient, medieval, Renaissance and Baroque art, the Eternal City keeps its eternal vibe with a dynamic modern and contemporary art scene. Turn away for a spell from the Eternal City’s storied wonders and lean in to new museum and gallery initiatives that focus on contemporary art.
Contemporary Art Museums
For an entirely 21st-century focus, head to the MAXXI Museum, Zaha Hadid’s concrete undulation in the Guido Reni district in the Flaminio neighborhood. MAXXI devotes its halls to work produced only in this century, with a permanent collection, temporary exhibitions and Italy’s largest modern architecture archive.
La Galleria Nazionale is a neo-classical palace containing Italy’s main collection of Italian art, meaning art from the early 1800s to the present. La Galleria is a curated who’s who in Italian art that chronicles history in an off-beat and non-chronological curation. Neoclassicists like Canova face off with Giuseppe Penone, while Macchiaioli and Arte Povera are interspersed with Beecroft, Penone, Calder, and Pollock.
On a smaller scale are Palazzo delle Esposizioni, a temporary exhibition space that occasionally hosts contemporary art and photography shows and Museo MACRO,Rome’s only contemporary gallery and working studio space. Located in a former Peroni beer factory, MACRO hosts exhibitions as well as artists in situ.
La dolce vita refers to Rome’s heyday in the mid-1900s, when the city was a world’s stage of fashion, performance and art. Somehow that vitality took a slumber for a few decades, only to wake up decades later thanks, in part, to Gavin Brown. The New York gallerist chose the “quiet” (i.e., southern) area of the Trastevere neighborhood for Sant’Andrea de Scaphis, the Rome outpost of Gavin Brown’s Enterprise (GBE).
The deconsecrated 8th-century church is a great stage for Brown’s amazing exhibitions. The one-room space has hosted site specific works by artists such as Rirkrit Tiravanija, Urs Fischer, Alex Katz and Ed Atkins.
Galleries to keep an eye on include: Postmasters, Frutta Gallery, Galerie Emanuel Layr and Monitor, and then catch up with contemporary art’s heavy-hitters like Giuseppe Penone, Cy Twombly, Rachel Whiteread, Kiki Smith and Richard Long at Gagosian Gallery (aka home of Cy Twombly) and Lorcan O’Neill.
Everyone knows that Rome is all about life on its streets. Since the days of Julius Caesar, the city has been a hotbed of contemporary art; its walls were canvas to ingenious and indignant graffiti.
Over the centuries street art has painted itself into Roman daily life. From scratchings and tags to gorgeous calligraphy, rebellious stencils and larger-than-life murals, street art is on every corner and every wall, and there is no better area to experience all of it than Quadraro.
Quadraro, a periphery neighborhood outside of the city center, is one of my favourite areas to spot street art, and its a de facto open air museum thanks to David Vecchiato (Diavù) Museo del Urban Art MURO, project. Some the best local and international artists including Diavù, Alice Pasquini, Camilla Falsini, Jim Avignon and Zio Ziegler have graced the walls with evocative murals.
For a great walk, head to Tor Pignattara, a rundown neighbourhood with pieces by out-of-sight and hidden stencils and smaller works of art by acclaimed artists from around the world.
A version of this article appeared in Marriott Traveler, August 2017.