The Eternal City’s 3,000-plus years of history are visible every time you walk its streets — turn any corner and it seems an ancient ruin rises before you. But lately it’s become apparent that Rome’s sidewalks are also dotted with more modern interests.
Turn away for a spell from the city’s storied wonders and lean in to new museum and gallery initiatives — you may discover contemporary art as Rome’s newest wonder.
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.
La Galleria Nazionale, housed in a palace containing Italy’s main collection of post-unification Italian art, is dedicated to who’s who in Italian art, from neoclassicists, Macchiaioli and futurists to Arte Povera and contemporary artists.
In 2016 director Cristiana Collu revamped the century-old building and changed up the permanent collection to create a new interpretation in the nonlinear exhibition “Time Is Out of Joint.” Canova faces off with Twombly, while Clemente, Modigliani, Beecroft, Penone, Calder, Kandinsky, Duchamp, Pollock and Balla hang out.
For a full-on 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.
For a smaller step into contemporary, Museo MACRO is 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. Also, keep an eye on the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, a temporary exhibition space that occasionally hosts contemporary art and photography shows.
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, thanks, in part, to Gavin Brown.
The New York gallerist chose the “quiet” (i.e., southern) area of the Trastevere neighborhood for the Rome outpost of Gavin Brown’s Enterprise (GBE), one of his six art spaces that include spots in New York and Los Angeles. Brown wowed the art world by choosing Sant’Andrea de Scaphis, a deconsecrated 8th-century church, for his Rome location.
Known for amazing exhibitions and even more amazing contemporary artists such as Rirkrit Tiravanija, Urs Fischer, Alex Katz and Ed Atkins, the intimate space hosts site-specific installations as well as multi-work shows.
After GBE, keep on the trail of other emerging artists by visiting 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 and Lorcan O’Neill.
Get outside. 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.
A periphery neighborhood outside of the city center, Quadraro has become a full-immersion outdoor museum since artist David Vecchiato (Diavù) launched Museo del Urban Art MURO in 2010.
Some the best local and international artists including Diavù, Alice Pasquini, Camilla Falsini, Jim Avignon and Zio Ziegler have graced Quadraro’s walls with evocative paintings, transforming Quadraro into living and continually evolving exhibition of incredible street art.