It took me quite a long time to fully appreciate Milan. At first, I thought it was too snobbish and pretentious. But I completely changed my mind when I started to discover the Milanese contemporary art scene.
I have to say the city has changed a lot in recent years. A few areas got completely renovated and a lot of cool new buildings built after the Milan Expo in 2015. And all in all, the general feeling is that Milan has been evolving from a very bourgeois and closed city to a vibrant, international one.
Milan has always been the most “international” city in Italy to be fair. Historically and culturally, it is the perfect mix of Italian traditions and European influences. Here you can find historic cafes, the best Italian fashion, together with shiny new skyscrapers and international workers and students from all over the world.
And when it comes to contemporary art, Milan has brushed up in the past decade and it is now very rich in destinations for art lovers. Whether you are looking for modern art, at Accademia di Brera or Museo del Novecento, or contemporary art, Milan has something for everyone.
Here are my top 3 destinations in Milan for my fellow contemporary art lovers.
Opened in 1993 by Miuccia Prada, the Prada Foundation has been animating Milan’s art scene for over two decades. But it was only in 2015 that it finally opened the permanent exhibition space near Porta Romana. A year later, it also opened its second location, the Osservatorio, in the beautiful Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, overlooking the Duomo.
The main branch is housed in a former 1910s distillery, where preexisting and new buildings stand side by side. The project was developed by Rem Koolhaas and his architecture firm OMA. They renovated the distillery buildings and built three new structures, the “Podium”, “Cinema” and “Torre”. The hallmark of the venue is the so-called “Haunted House”, a 4-story building, clad in 24-carat gold foil, where pieces from the permanent collection of art of the Fondazione Prada are displayed.
The quality of the exhibitions is as high as this of the renovation project itself. Fondazione Prada pairs its permanent collection, which comprises artworks by some of the most important contemporary artists, with a number of temporary exhibitions throughout the year. The spaces are big and you can always find something interesting going on, whether an exhibition, an artist talk or a screening. Walking around the various buildings is by itself a real pleasure. The architecture is charming and if the weather is sunny, the golden tower has a really special glare.
Lastly, while you are here, don’t forget to check Bar Luce. Designed by none other than film director Wes Anderson, it recreates the atmosphere of a typical Milanese cafe. It is the perfect and delightfully pastel-colored spot to drink a coffee and take your best Instagram photos.
Largo Isarco, 2 – 20139 Milano
Open Friday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Tickets 6€ – 12€
This is another former industrial building reconverted to display temporary exhibitions. Opened in 2012, HangarBicocca has over 10,000 square meters of exhibition space, which hosted over the years solo exhibitions by artists such as Marina Abramovic, Carsten Höller, Tomas Saraceno, Lucio Fontana, and Mario Merz. The building, once a Pirelli factory, is divided into three main areas, two dedicated to temporary exhibitions and one for a permanent installation, The Seven Heavenly Palaces 2004-2015 by Anselm Kiefer.
Although not too easy to reach (you need to walk about 10 to 15 minutes from the closest metro station), it is one of the best places in Milan to enjoy contemporary art. Not only the quality of the exhibitions is amazing, but they are usually well displayed and arranged. It is a black, empty factory, and the exhibitions – usually large scale installations – are powerful immersive experiences.
Via Chiese, 2 – 20126 Milano
Open Friday to Sunday, 10.30 a.m. to 7.30 p.m.
The last place I would like to recommend is MUDEC (Museum of Cultures). It is not specifically a museum dedicated to contemporary art, but it is definitely worth a visit. First of all, it is conveniently located near the Navigli and Darsena area, very easy to reach and a short walk from one of Milan’s most famous areas.
Moreover, it is a stunning building, one of my favorite examples of how Milan has been capable of transforming itself into a contemporary city, without losing touch with its past at the same time. It is yet another former industrial building, renovated and updated to host a museum. The architecture perfectly merges the various components of the museum, creating open spaces for people to sit, rest, or interact with one another. All in all, as a museum of cultures it fits its mission pretty well.
The museum has a permanent collection of world manufactures, but it also hosts temporary exhibitions, most of which dedicated to contemporary art. From Basquiat to Liu Bolin, Roy Lichtenstein, or Steve McCurry, the exhibitions are usually meant for a broader audience and usually involve well known international artists.
It also has a rich program of events, kids’ activities, a cafe, a restaurant, and a design store. It is definitely the perfect place to spend a few hours, by yourself or with your family.
Via Tortona, 56 – 20144 Milano
Open Friday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Free entrance to the permanent collection
Tickets vary for temporary exhibitions
Would you like to explore more contemporary art in Italy?
Then why not taking a tour of Tuscany! Head over to this article and find out more!
Cover image MUDEC ©PHOTO OskarDaRiz for Stahlbau Pichler | Courtesy MUDEC