Less than a month into this winter, and I am already fed up with the cold weather, the rain, the snow, and all the wintry decorations. It is no secret that I do not particularly enjoy this season, and I start the countdown to spring basically on the first day of autumn. But traveling comes in handy in these situations, and luckily there are plenty of places to visit if you don’t feel like burying yourself under 10 layers of thermal wear.
Now, I know it is summer on the other side of the planet, and if you want to escape winter you just need to go to South America, Australia, South Africa, or any tropical country. But I believe in traveling consciously and slowly, to fully enjoy the experience and get to know the places. So, if you ask me, traveling all the way to Brazil for a week, or somewhere in South East Asia, is not worth the trouble. On the contrary, I think there are plenty of places closer to home that we can enjoy, to get a glimpse of spring in the middle of winter.
One of those places, and one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited in my entire life, is Sicily. The most southern region of Italy is particularly popular in summer, when the stunning beaches, delicious food, and wonderful villages attract tourists from all over the world.
With millennia of history and civilizations, unparalleled natural beauties, and extremely rich culture, Sicily is an amazing place to visit, not just in summer, but year-round whether you like sunbathing, swimming, natural parks, outdoor activities, as well as archeology and sightseeing.
And being perfectly located in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, it has endless hours of sun and very warm weather. The perfect gateway for a wintery vacation.
But when it comes to contemporary art, what is there to see in Sicily?
Actually a lot, because like many other places, the region has been investing in art and art-related projects, and many private investors and younger independent spaces are choosing Sicily to open their spaces. So, without any further ado, here is an itinerary for you to follow to discover some of the best contemporary art attractions in Sicily.
1. Catania and east Sicily
The first stop on this tour is Catania. You can easily land here, as its airport is conveniently located with various cities in Italy and Europe. You might then want to rent a car, so you can easily enjoy the region and its stunning views at your own pace.
Catania in itself is a wonderful city, nested between the sea and the Etna volcano. Do not worry if you see the majestic mountain fuming, it is actually pretty common and an amazing view especially at night.
Soak in the sun, and then head over to MacS (Museo di Arte Contemporanea Sicilia), a small museum presenting local artists from Sicily, or to GAM – Galleria di Arte Moderna di Catania, a collection hosted in a former monastery where they organize seasonal exhibitions.
If you are looking for independent spaces, then head to viaraffineria, a former industrial building in the old factory district of Catania. Here in 2019 Giulia Caruso e Maria Vittoria Di Sabatino open a space for visual art and performance, that presents both local, national, and international artists. They also run a project called Sicilia Orientale, a platform dedicated to the research and promotion of contemporary art in eastern Sicily.
2. The south coast
No trip to Sicily is complete without a road trip by the coast, enjoying the views, soaking up the sun, and visiting smaller villages and incredible archeological sites. Drive from Catania all the way south, following the coast, and enjoy the views. You can thank me later!
Don’t forget to stop in Syracuse and Ragusa, Agrigento, and the amazing Valle dei Templi (Valley of Temples). Once you have visited this area, you will understand why ancient greeks and other populations of the area had such a love for beauty and an eye for aesthetic. Everything is so incredibly beautiful you will never want to leave.
As you are in Agrigento, stop at Farm Cultural Park in Favara. This once semi-abandoned village was turned into an open-air cultural center in 2010, when Andrea Bartoli and his wife Florinda Saieva bought and restored several buildings. Nowadays, it hosts exhibitions, street art, shops, and events, and its ultimate aim is to transform the city, giving it a new life through art and culture.
While driving along the south coast, take a detour and visit Gibellina. Completely destroyed by the 1968 Belice earthquake, the old Gibellina was never really rebuilt. In its former location, you can now visit the so-called Grande Cretto by Italian artist Alberto Burri. This giant landscape artwork is a cement work that spreads over the old town of Gibellina, and traces its former streets and squares. About 20 km from the Cretto, you can visit the new city of Gibellina, where artists and local institutions engage in art residencies and exhibitions. Here you can also visit the Contemporary Art Civic Museum of the city.
The last stop for this tour is Palermo, the regional capital of Sicily, the biggest city on the island, and its contemporary art center. The history of Palermo dates back to ancient times, and over the centuries the city has witnessed different cultures, populations, and traditions, and it is nowadays a wonderful chest of wonders. You can easily spend a week in Palermo and enjoy every single minute of your trip. From beaches to ancient churches, palaces, elegant shopping districts, popular markets, and museums, Palermo has something for everyone.
When it comes to contemporary art, the city is particularly active, both institutionally, with museums and a popular art academy, as well as with private and independent spaces.
Just to name a few, you can visit Museo Riso, with its permanent collection as well as temporary exhibitions. The museum is hosted in a former residential palace, built in Baroque and Rococo styles, and opened to the public in 2005.
When you are done, head over to Palazzo Butera, an amazing Baroque palace that hosts the private collection of Francesca e Massimo Valsecchi. The ancient palace has been restored and it now hosts the collection, together with exhibitions, some residencies for artists and curators, but also a cafe, and a bistro.
And when it comes to independent spaces for contemporary art, Palermo is a very active city. After many years of relative stagnation, in the past decade, the city has seen an increasing number of initiatives, that are bringing new life to its art scene. From artist-run spaces to galleries and residency programs, the city is witnessing a real change.
All these spaces are rather small and often run by young artists and curators, that are trying to revitalize the city, especially after the thrilling experience of Manifesta 2018. Just to give you some names, you can check L’Ascensore, a project space with cool temporary exhibitions, Parentesi tonde, an artist-run space, and La Siringe, an exhibition space hosted in a former rehearsal room.