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.
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.
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.