Where To Find the Best of Contemporary Art in Rome
In Rome, you'll find contemporary artworks rubbing shoulders with ancient masterpieces | Courtesy of Galleria Lorcan O'Neill Roma
When it comes to artistic heritage, Rome is best known for its ancient marble sculptures and Renaissance masterpieces. However, the city also has a thriving contemporary art scene and plays host to a growing number of galleries and exhibition spaces focused on the art of today.
In a city more than 2,500 years old, historic masterpieces by the likes of Michelangelo, Bernini, Caravaggio and Raphael dominate the limelight. Rome’s contemporary art scene, however, shouldn’t be overlooked. Antique palazzi now house cutting-edge artworks, high-profile exhibitions celebrate luminaries of the 19th and 20th centuries, and new independent galleries shine a light on up-and-coming artists from Italy and beyond. There’s a world of modern art hiding among Rome’s ancient streets – here’s where to find it.
Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna
Art Gallery, Building, Art Museum, Park
The Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna was originally situated in Palazzo delle Esposizioni on Via Nazionale – however, as its collection of 19th- and 20th-century art expanded, it moved to its current location near the Villa Borghese gardens in 1915. The grandiose Palazzo delle Belle Arti houses work by some of Italy’s most influential modern artists, including Alberto Burri, Antonio Canova and Amedeo Modigliani, as well as internationally acclaimed names such as Jackson Pollock, Pablo Picasso and Vincent Van Gogh. Rather than presenting pieces chronologically, Galleria Nazionale mixes mediums and time periods to inspire visitors to discover new connections between genres and artists.
With his design for the chiostro, or cloister, of the church of Santa Maria della Pace, Donato Bramante introduced the High Renaissance style to Rome. Today, the remarkable structure plays host to crowd-pleasing exhibitions, primarily from the world of contemporary art. Immersive and interactive projects, like 2018/2019’s Dream exhibition, are hugely popular and have visitors queueing out the door to see Instagrammable installations and big-name pieces. The coffee shop, which overlooks the cloister, is possibly the most atmospheric spot in Rome to work, study or just people-watch.
Founded by American art dealer Larry Gagosian, the Gagosian network is comprised of 16 exhibition spaces located in buzzing metropolises such as New York, Paris, London and Hong Kong. The Rome outpost brings a dose of the global art scene to the Eternal City and is situated near Piazza Barberini. The open-plan, oval showroom was inaugurated in 2007 with an exhibition of new works by Cy Twombly and has since presented collections featuring distinguished names like Frank Gehry, Damien Hirst, Yayoi Kusama and Alexander Calder. Best of all? It’s free to enter.
Palazzo Rhinoceros, in the historic Velabro district, is the latest project of Fondazione Alda Fendi – Esperimenti, a non-profit cultural foundation helmed by Alda Fendi of the Roman fashion-house dynasty. The 17th-century structure has been radically transformed into 24 luxury apartments, a rooftop caviar bar and art gallery. Rather than separate the gallery from the building’s other uses, the entire structure is considered a stage for artworks and performances. The ultra-modern space hosts a broad range of exhibitions – from masters such as Michelangelo to surrealists like Man Ray – so visitors should check the Facebook page for details. It’s free entry, so worth checking out even if you don’t recognise the names on display.
With its dramatic shape, made of interlocking concrete segments and sleek glass panelling, the MAXXI (National Museum of 21st Century Art) is Rome’s most modern landmark. Designed by Zaha Hadid and located in the well-heeled Flaminio neighbourhood, the space is an antidote to the rest of the city’s antique architecture and is home to the avant-garde. The experimental and thought-provoking exhibitions that take place here feature contemporary artists from Italy and beyond, and are supported by stimulating events such as workshops, concerts and talks.
With its ruby red walls, black floorboards and ornate furnishings, Dorothy Circus Gallery purposefully conjures up a setting that references Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland(2010). The exhibits are equally quirky, focusing on Pop and Neo-Surrealism and featuring names at the forefront of figurative art, including Mark Ryden, Andrey Remnev, Marion Peck and street artists such as Millo, ROA and Eduardo Kobra. Though the space is compact, there’s just enough space for a charming gift shop, which sells books and the gallery’s own range of perfumes, teas and candles.
Galleria Lorcan O'Neill exhibits international artists in Rome | Courtesy of Galleria Lorcan O'Neill
Since opening an art space in Trastevere in 2003, Irish-born collector Lorcan O’Neill has acquired a reputation for bringing international artists to the Eternal City. In 2014 he moved his eponymous gallery to Rome’s historic centre, to the converted 17th-century stables of Palazzo Santacroce. Work by globally renowned artists, such as Turner Prize winners Tracey Emin and Richard Long, has been displayed in the all-white main gallery, as well as pieces by a new crop of creatives like British visual artist Eddie Peake and Italian painter Gianni Politi.
This technicolour gallery and all the artworks in it are the creation of the Roman “fire artist” known as Dicò. Located in the heart of the historic centre and inaugurated in June 2019, the space is filled with giant canvases that have been splattered with paint, adorned with neon tubing and burnt to create interesting textures. Many of the pop-pyro pieces on display are riffs on the theme of fame and feature images of instantly recognisable celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, JFK and Mohammed Ali. Others are splashy reworkings of iconic works of art.
The Museo d’Arte Contemporanea di Roma, or MACRO as it’s more commonly referred to, is known for its independent approach to contemporary art. Located in a revamped Peroni beer factory in the Salario neighbourhood, MACRO has held exhibitions dealing with unusual themes such as tattoo art from around the world, Sufism and life in Rome’s forgotten suburbs. Displays such as the showing of previously unseen Pink Floyd memorabilia or 2016’s Anish Kapoor exhibition have helped attract a diverse crowd of art lovers. The permanent collection focuses on Italian art from the 1960s onwards.