I don’t usually talk too much about my hometown, Florence. Not because I don’t like it, although I admittedly have a love/hate relationship with it, but rather because it seems far too documented in blogs, websites, and travel-related outlets. Firenze is easily one of the top 3 destinations in Italy and among the top ones in Europe for the number of visitors each year. Pre-Covid Florence was a constant avalanche of tourists: some would stay for a few days, most would just leave after a few hours, very few would stay long enough to venture beyond the most famous attractions or to other cities in Tuscany. A lot has changed in the past couple of years, but Florence is still a great tourist destination and we all wait for visitors to come back to our city. Despite what Florentine folks might say, being able to meet people from all over the world while living in such a small city is what I appreciate the most about it.
But why should you visit Firenze in 2022? First of all, because I am not the only one to say so. Recently Florence has been included in the Best in Travel 2022 list by Lonely Planet, among the top 10 cities to visit this year. And if it’s a Lonely Planet suggestion, we can all agree we should consider it.
And then because, after all the restrictions due to Covid, Florence is slowly coming back to its best self. After 2020’s lockdown and 2021 partial reopening, in 2022 Florence will hopefully be almost back to normal, but still enjoyable due to the lower number of tourists.
So if you are planning to go see the Uffizi, or eat the famous Fiorentina steak, or maybe embark on a Tuscany road trip to experience the best contemporary art the region has to offer, you should definitely plan your trip in 2022. And if you do, here are my favorite places for contemporary art in Firenze.
Trust me, I am a local!
Museums and contemporary art centers in Firenze
If there is one thing we really lack in Florence, it is a proper contemporary art museum. Sure, we have the Pecci Museum right outside of the city, and we used to have a sort of kunsthalle/art center back in the days (which coincidentally was my first workplace in the art world and part of the reason why I am here today), but we don’t have a dedicated space.
Despite it being talked about and discussed for a while now, there is still no real project to open one any time soon. But don’t worry, we do have great alternatives, namely the Museo Novecento and the Palazzo Strozzi Foundation.
Museo Novecento is hosted in a former hospital, originally built in the 13th century. The museum, which opened in 2014, is dedicated to art from 20th-century art, presenting a selection of works from the civic collections. The permanent collection is not extremely impressive, but they host interesting temporary exhibitions and projects.
On the other hand, Palazzo Strozzi is one of the most flamboyant and eclectic exhibitions spaces in Italy. It has made a name in the past years for its provoking exhibitions, many of which are dedicated to the most influential contemporary artists, such as Bill Viola, Marina Abramović, Tomas Saraceno, Ai Weiwei, and Jeff Koons. They still host exhibitions dedicated to Renaissance and modern art from time to time, but lately, they have been working mostly with contemporary art. Come here for the exhibitions, but also stop by to take a look at the magnificent palace. Dating back to 1489, it is the best example of a Florentine Renaissance palace, and a true gem right in the middle of the city. Peek inside its courtyard, where the Foundation usually hosts site-specific installations, and don’t forget to check “Strozzina”, the basement of the palace, where the foundation organizes smaller exhibitions with younger artists.
Contemporary Art Galleries in Firenze
Florence’s contemporary art scene is slowly growing, and galleries are coming and going. Some have been here for decades, and still present interesting projects and showcase great artists. But if I have cut it down to a small selection of galleries you shouldn’t miss, I would suggest you visit the youngest and most up-to-date spaces in town.
The first stop would be Eduardo Secci Contemporary, in Piazza Goldoni. The young gallerist promotes museum-like exhibitions in the beautiful spaces of his main gallery, while also collaborating with museums and institutions in and outside of Florence. Originally opened in 2013, they now have a second gallery in Milan and an impressive roster of represented artists.
Another interesting space, hybridization between a gallery and an independent space, is VEDA. It was originally hosted in the very central-located space, next to the sister Galleria Gentili, but it recently moved slightly outside of the center, in a newly renovated former industrial complex, which we will mention again later on, Manifattura Tabacchi. They work with young and thought-provoking international artists, bringing to Florence the New York-like type of exhibitions the city needs so much.
Last but not least, I would suggest Spazio Amanita. Recently opened by a duo of young gallerists, the space is located on the second floor of a traditional Florentine building, just steps away from Palazzo Strozzi. With its high ceilings and big windows, the contemporary art gallery overlooks the center of Firenze while presenting some of the most interesting Italian and international emerging artists.
Independent and artist-run spaces
Just like galleries, independent spaces are somehow a new addition to the contemporary art scene of Firenze. In recent years, they have been opening and closing around the city, often struggling to survive in a city that a lot has still to do for contemporary art. Yet, they are here and they keep fighting, and we should all support them in all the possible ways. So if you are visiting Florence, get some comfy shoes and start exploring!
The first stop should necessarily be the Manifattura Tabacchi. As I mentioned earlier, it used to be an industrial complex, that is undergoing a long process of renovations and will eventually be turned into a cool artistic complex right outside of the city center. So far, inside Manifattura Tabacchi you can find the above-mentioned VEDA, together with a number of local artisans and artists studios, bars, and a rich program of events. Moreover, you can come here for Toast Project Space, a small exhibition space hosted in the former porter’s lodge of the complex, and for NAM – Not A Museum, the contemporary art branch of the whole project.
If you are looking for a smaller space, in a more traditional setting inside the city center, then the place for you is Base Progetti per l’Arte. Originally opened in 1998, Base is an artist-run space and collective that over the years has informed and shaped the relationship that Florence has with contemporary art. This tiny space in the San Niccolò area has hosted some of the most important international artists of the past decades, but also artists living and working in Tuscany. By exhibiting site-specific works only, Base has promoted the production of exhibitions that have transformed the space while giving to Firenze a much-needed insight into the international discourse about contemporary art.
Last but not least, one more space I would suggest you visit is La Portineria. Founded in 2020, this small space in a residential area outside of the center presents interesting exhibitions by young local and international artists. Hosted on the ground floor of Palazzo Poli, a 1970’s concrete modernist building, this independent research space focuses on creating dialogues with the city, the neighborhood, and the represented artists.