Milan was at the centre of some of Europe’s most historically significant art movements – from 14th-century Gothic art under the Visconti family, to Futurism at the beginning of the 20th century – and today it is an important player in the international contemporary scene. This rich art history is reflected in the diversity of both old and new art galleries in the city.
Pinacoteca Di Brera
The Pinacoteca di Brera is a major public museum housed in a palazzo in the Brera district. It originated as a gallery to host the most important works of art from areas conquered by the French armies. Today, it is a celebrated art collection in Italy, with a special focus on Venetian and Lombard paintings. Many of the works were looted from churches and convents, so it is dominated by religious themes. Over the centuries, the museum has grown its collection to include a strong modern wing, meaning you can enjoy masterpieces from the likes of Bellini, Caravaggio and Tintoretta, but also Boccioni, Modigliani and Severini. Highlights include Raphael’s The Marriage of the Virgin (1504) and Francesco Hayez’s The Kiss (1859). Admission is free every first Sunday of the month.
Pinacoteca di Brera, Via Brera, 28, Milan, Italy, +39 02 7226 3264
Pinacoteca del Castello Sforzesco
The picture gallery at Castello Sforzesco (one of the many museums housed within the castle grounds) originated in 1878 and over the centuries, has been enriched by major donations. It now comprises over 1,500 paintings that date from the 13th century to 18th century, including masterpieces by the likes of Bronzino, Tintoretto and Titian. A large section is dedicated to late Lombard’s gothic paintings, reflective of the patronage of Milan’s Visconti and Sforza dynasties. Collection highlights include Vincenzo Foppa’s Madonna del Libro (1475) and Canaletto’s The Pier towards Riva degli Schiavoni with the Column of Saint Mark (before 1742). Spread across six halls, just 230 works from the collection are on display at one time, which makes for a very manageable tour.
Castello Sforzesco, Piazza Castello, Milan, Italy, +39 02 8846 3700
Just a short walk from the Duomo, this gallery houses a remarkable collection of 20th-century art, with particular emphasis on Italian artists. Over 400 works are displayed chronologically, giving visitors a great introduction to modern Italian art history. It begins in 1902 and travels through Futurism, Novecento, Abstraction, Art Informel, leaders of the 1950s and 1960s (including an entire floor dedicated to Lucio Fontana), Arte Povera and finishes with Pop Art. The museum also pays tribute to other international avant-garde art movements so you can view masterpiece works by the likes of Picasso, Paul Klee and Piet Mondrian.
Museo del Novecento, Via Marconi, 1, Milan, Italy, +39 02 884 440 61
The architecture of Fondazione Prada distinguishes it above all other venues to experience modern and contemporary art in the city. Designed by the OMA architecture studio led by Rem Koolhaas, the site marries existing industrial distillery buildings with esoteric new spaces, including a tower clad in gold leaf. Visit the permanent collection or temporary exhibitions to see art by leading artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, such as Louise Bourgeois, Dan Flavin and Anish Kapoor. The arts centre also houses a cinema and a kitsch Milanese-American café designed by film director Wes Anderson.
Fondazione Prada, Largo Isarco, 2, Milan, Italy, +39 02 5666 2611
Located in an otherwise unremarkable area in the outskirts of north Milan, Pirelli HangarBicocca is a much-loved not-for-profit venue. The gallery has repurposed a vast industrial plant, which provides great scope and flexibility for its presentations. The scale of the building means Pirelli HangarBicocca specialises in staging major installation pieces and exhibitions of large-scale work. For example, Lucio Fontana’s environments or Carsten Höller’s sensory 2016 presentation ‘Doubt’, which featured over 20 monumental works. Anselm Kiefer’s The Seven Heavenly Palaces (2004–2015) was commissioned on the occasion of the gallery’s opening in 2004 and is permanently on view. The space also runs an education programme, offering young visitors a creative entry point to the work on view. The sleek on-site restaurant has a shaded patio, which is ideal for lounging if you visit during summer months. Entry is free.
Pirelli HangarBicocca, Via Chiese 2, Milan +39 02 66 11 15 73
Museo delle Culture di Milano (MUDEC)
Designed by architect David Chipperfield, MUDEC is a visually striking cultural museum located in the hip southwesterly neighbourhood Zona Tortona. It stages wider historical and cultural exhibitions on topics such as ancient Egypt or the history of Chinese immigration in Milan, alongside a strong modern and contemporary art programme. Blockbuster art presentations in recent years have included Jean-Michel Basquiat, Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Gauguin. With a large education annex and underground parking, MUDEC caters particularly well to families.
MUDEC, Via Tortona, 56, Milano +39 02 54 917
Casa Museo Boschi Di Stefano
This is an unusual gallery because it is in the former residence of spouses Antonio Boschi (1896–1988) and Marieda Di Stefano (1901–1968) – it is one of four special house museums in Milan. The couple were enthusiasts of 20th-century Italian art, and during their lifetime, amassed a collection of over 2,000 paintings, drawings and sculptures, which they generously donated to the City of Milan in 1974. A selection of 300 works, which traces modern Italian art history from the 1900s until the 1960s, is beautifully hung in true salon style, among period furniture inside the elegant apartment. The building was constructed at the beginning of the 1930s by Architect Piero Portaluppi and has been excellently maintained – note the original art deco door frames and glass work. At Casa Museo Boschi Di Stefano, you can admire an exquisite art deco cabinet next to a rare Mario Sironi painting, or an outlandish 1950s dining table designed by Gino Levi Montalcini beneath a Piero Manzoni Achrome; it is the ultimate aesthete destination.
Casa Museo Boschi Di Stefano, Via G. Jan 15, Milan +39 02 74 28 10 00
Massimo De Carlo
2017 marks the 30-year anniversary of Massimo De Carlo, a commercial gallery renowned for bringing big international artists to Milan. It first opened on Via Ventura in 1987 and now has an additional space in Palazzo Belgioioso in the historical centre of the city, as well as in London and Hong Kong. The Palazzo Belgioioso gallery space was designed by Giuseppe Piermarini (who also designed La Scala Theatre) in 1787 – the ornate features create a beautiful environment to view innovative contemporary artwork by the likes of Maurizio Cattelan, Elmgreen & Dragset, Jim Hodges and Laari Upson. The original Via Ventura gallery is a more typical white cube space.
Massimo De Carlo, Via Giovanni Ventura 5, Milan +39 02 7000
Leading modern and contemporary art dealer, Tornabuoni Arte, was first established in Florence in 1981 and has since opened gallery spaces in Milan (1995), Forte dei Marmi (2004), Tornabuoni Arte Antica (2006) and the foreign offices of Crans Montana in Switzerland (1993), Paris (2009) and London (2015). The gallery specialises in post-war Italian art and is renowned for its academic and research credentials. Its exhibition programme focuses on presentations of seminal 20th-century Italian artists such as Giacomo Balla, Giorgio di Chirico and Giorgio Morandi, but also features leading international artists from the 20th century to present, including Pablo Atchugarry, Jean Dubuffet and Hans Hartung. Located in an unassuming building on Via Fatebenefratelli, this intimate space is ideal for visiting while you are in the Brera neighborhood.
Via Fatebenefratelli, 34/36, Milan +39 02 65 54 841
Gió Marconi Gallery
This commercial gallery originated in 1986 as Studio Marconi 17, an experimental space for emerging international artist and critics directed by Gió Marconi. Gió’s father, Giorgio Marconi, had previously founded Studio Marconi, which they ran together between 1965 and 1992. Today, Gió Marconi Gallery continues to champion contemporary artists from around the world (for example, Franz Ackermann, Nathalie Djurberg, Allison Katz) as well as promoting the historical work of the former Studio Marconi programme. It holds an important place in Milan’s contemporary art history and is still one of the best places in in the city see bold, often challenging new art.
Gió Marconi Gallery, Via Alessandro Tadino, 20, Milan +39 02 29 40 43 73