Why You Shouldn't Overlook Florence's Contemporary Art Scene

The Duomo and Giotto’s Campanile tower over Florence's skyline
The Duomo and Giotto’s Campanile tower over Florence's skyline | © Matej Divizna/ Getty Images
Photo of Nardia Plumridge
13 December 2019

From political art in a 16th-century palace to summer sculpture at a former Renaissance fort, Florence has contemporary artistic treasures at every turn. Art enthusiast, author and Florence resident Nardia Plumridge shares nine of the best spaces to see them.

The Uffizi Gallery is one of Florence’s most famous art spots, but there’s plenty more to explore in the city | © miralex/ Getty Images

Florence is a culture capital that has art and architecture at its core. You can easily get lost for days in its array of galleries, a heady mix of classic and contemporary collections housed in some of the grandest buildings in Europe. While first time visitors should cover the must-do museums – like the Uffizi Gallery and the Galleria dell’Accademia – the number of the city’s contemporary offerings has skyrocketed in recent years. Here are nine must-do gallery spaces to enjoy the city’s burgeoning art scene.

Clet Abraham

Art Gallery
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A Frenchman who’s been firmly planted in Florence for two decades, Clet Abraham’s name is synonymous with street art in the city. After launching take-overs of street signs, much to the local council’s dismay, his guerilla-style operation has sparked a following of his artistic talents. Clet uses removable stickers to reinterpret street signs, so look up when walking through Florence to find them; they’re designed to add a little whimsy, charm and provocativeness to what, Clet felt, was a uniformed approach to living. A ‘No Through Road’ sign is reimagined to become a crucifix with a hanging Jesus; a ‘This Way’ arrow has been turned into Pinocchio’s nose. In his pocket-sized studio in San Niccolò, you can see and buy his designs, from original artwork to stickers, postcards and T-shirts.

Studio Abba

Art Gallery
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The gallery is located on the first floor of Palazzo Rosselli del Turco in hip Florentine neighbourhood Oltrarno. A contemporary gallery housed in an elegant 16th-century Renaissance palace with 18th-century frescoed ceilings that once played host to the embassy of the United States; Studio Abba is a space with no small amount of history. Today, the studio organises collective and solo shows in its home city of Florence, as well housing a permanent collection of paintings and drawings by 20th-century Hungarian artist, Karl Stengel. In addition to this location, curator Vito Abba finds unique and prestige locations to showcase work in other major cities, including Paris, London, Monaco, Tokyo, Venice and Miami.

La Strozzina, Palazzo Strozzi

Architectural Landmark, Building, Museum
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The Palazzo Strozzi hosts contemporary art exhibitions and live music performances | © FORGET-GAUTIER/SAGAPHOTO.COM / Alamy Stock Photo

Hidden in the basement of one of the finest Renaissance palaces in Florence, the Strozzina showcases multi-media installations and exhibitions that often support the main show upstairs in the main palace halls. The Centre for Contemporary Culture Strozzina (CCCS) was launched in 2007 and since has showcased diverse work from Chinese artists Liu Xiaodong and Ai Weiwei to a recent collection of video art, VISIO. Moving Images After Post-Internet, featuring 12 international creatives all under the age of 35. The Strozzina also organises lectures, workshops, screenings and artist talks through the year.

Villa Bardini

Art Gallery, Museum
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A view over the Gardens Of Villa Bardini in Florence
Florence’s Giardino Bardini | © Marka / Getty Images
With its dusty pink façade, Villa Bardini overlooks the city with sweeping views down the river Arno from its southern heights in central Florence. Within its walls is a modern museum space, cultural and exhibition centre that showcases works of both Italian and international artists with temporary exhibitions, too. The Pietro Annigoni Museum is a permanent collection of drawings, design, and paintings by the Milanese artist who later called Florence home. Celebrated for abiding to strict realism principles, and using ancient Renaissance painting techniques when abstract art was at its most popular, Annigoni’s portraits of royalty, presidents and popes earned him the name, ‘Painter of Queens’.

Forte di Belvedere

Art Gallery
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Antony Gormley  HUMAN sculpture exhibition at  Forte di Belvedere, Florence, Italy
An Antony Gormley sculpture guards the doorway at Forte di Belvedere | © Bailey-Cooper Photography / Alamy Stock Photo

Positioned on the highest peak of Florence, Forte di Belvedere was built in the late 16th century as a Renaissance military base. Today, it plays host to summer exhibitions of contemporary sculpture that are jotted around the complex grounds. Past exhibitions have included British-born Antony Gormley, Belgian Jan Fabre, and avant-garde Italian artist, Eliseo Mattiacci, while 2019 saw the animal art of Bologna-based Davide Rivalta overlooking the Florence city skyline. Concession-priced tickets are offered to those who have visited Museo Novecento (see below) making a visit to this fort even more enticing.

Casamonti Collection

Art Gallery
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Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni palace in Piazza Santa Trinita, Florence, Italy
The Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni is home to some of Florence's best contemporary art | © saturno dona' / Alamy Stock Photo

Florentine art collector Roberto Casamonti opened his exhibition space in 2018 within the usually private Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni. Having built an extensive art collection of over 5,000 works since launching Tornabuoni Arte in the early 1980s, Casamonti Collection rotates pieces – its first show hung 250 artworks from the early 20th-century (1900s to the 1960s) with works by Pablo Picasso, Wassily Kandinsky and Andy Warhol on show. Its current exhibition features acquisitions from the 1960s up to the 21st century, including Gilbert & George and Marina Abramović, displayed across six rooms.

Aria Art Gallery

Art Gallery
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Tucked down a small cobbled street a block from the Ponte Vecchio, curator Antonio Budetta promotes new artists and ideas with his temporary shows housed within a shed-like structure with a hidden botanical garden from circa 1534. With exhibitions by artists from America and China to the Middle East, Aria’s offerings often mix the classic with the contemporary: a current show, Timelessness, boasts 16th- and 17th-century masters exhibited alongside contemporary pieces to challenge the “descriptions imposed by the History of Art” and to enrich “ancient and contemporary masterpieces with new meanings.”

Gallery of Modern Art, Palazzo Pitti

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Florence, Palazzo Pitti, Sala di Grove in Galleria Palatina,. Image shot 2018. Exact date unknown.
Gold-framed paintings and imposing statues add to the grandeur of the Palazzo Pitti | © JOHN KELLERMAN / Alamy Stock Photo
Once home to Italian royalty, today Palazzo Pitti houses five museums, making it the largest exhibition complex in Florence. While many spaces display Renaissance and Baroque art, The Gallery of Modern Art showcase pieces from the late 18th to 20th centuries with a focus on the Neoclassical up to the Purist period displayed in rooms still in their original, and opulent, 18th-century interior glory. Worth seeking out: a collection of canvases by the Macchiaioli School, a group of Italian painters who pushed against the traditional techniques taught in Florence to create their own Impressionist style that was radical in its day.

Museo Novecento

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Since opening in 2014, the Museo Novecento has focused on showcasing 20th- and 21st-century work by Italian artists with a permanent display of painting, sculpture and installations housed in a former hospital dating back to the 13th century, in parts, that has been revamped to modern-day standards. Overlooking the bustling piazza of Santa Maria Novella, the gallery also hosts regular temporary shows plus a calendar of events including film screenings and music concerts, all with a contemporary tilt. In the summer, ticket holders can access Forte di Belvedere for a reduced fee.
These recommendations were updated on December 13, 2019 to keep your travel plans fresh.