Fresh back from the 2024 edition of Arte Fiera in Bologna, one of the major contemporary art fairs in Italy, it is about time to focus on this city. Located just about one hour away from Florence, Milan, and Venice, Bologna is one of the most underrated cities in Italy, despite brimming with cultural heritage and artistic vibrancy. 

Renowned for its medieval architecture, rich history, and sumptuous cuisine, Bologna is also a thriving hub for contemporary art, often overlooked amidst its more famous attributes or compared to other cities nearby. Sure, the area is internationally famous for Bolognese sauce (pro tip, it is called Ragù around here), and fast cars like Lamborghini, but delving into the city’s art scene reveals a treasure trove of creativity, making it an enticing destination for art aficionados seeking the unexpected. 
Bologna makes for a perfect day trip from Florence or Milan, especially if you travel by train, as it is the perfect exchange point for fast train lines, like Frecciarossa and Italo. You can easily reach the center from the station with a nice walk down one of the main shopping streets of the city, via dell’Indipendenza, and enjoy the famous “portici” of its city center. 

As you navigate the cobbled streets and picturesque piazzas of Bologna, be sure to carve out time to explore its hidden artistic treasures. Whether you find yourself captivated by the avant-garde installations, industrial-inspired exhibits, or intimate galleries scattered throughout the city, Bologna promises an enriching experience for art enthusiasts of all tastes. 
So, embrace the spirit of discovery and unlock the artistic charms of this captivating city – for beneath its timeless façade lies a vibrant tapestry of contemporary creativity waiting to be explored.

MamBO – Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna | Photo MamBO

1. MamBO: The Pulse of Contemporary Expression

Nestled within the historical city center, the Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna (MamBO) serves as a dynamic platform for contemporary expression. Housing an impressive collection of works spanning various mediums, MamBO showcases the evolution of artistic thought and experimentation. Opened in 2007 in the so-called former Forno del Pane (bread bakery), the museum has quickly become one of the most prominent institutions for contemporary art in Italy and in Europe.

MamBO offers a dynamic perspective: it travels through the history of Italian art from the second post-war period until today, while also exploring the present thanks to temporary exhibitions centered on research and contributing to outline the routes of contemporary art following the most innovative and pulsating experimental practices.

Located in the heart of the Manifattura delle Arti cultural district, the museum also hosts the Morandi Museum, a museum dedicated to the world-famous Giorgio Morandi, showcasing the biggest collection in the world of the artist’s work.

MamBo – Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna
Via Don Giovanni Minzoni, 14 – Bologna
Info, tickets, and opening hours:

MAST Bologna | Photo Audio Network

2. MAST: Where Art Meets Industry

Venturing slightly off the city center, if you are looking for contemporary art in Bologna, the MAST Foundation is the perfect spot for a unique blend of art and industry. In an area so deeply involved with technological research and innovations, MAST celebrates the intersection of creativity and technology through its diverse exhibitions and educational programs. Founded in Bologna in 2013, the Foundation aims to promote projects that leverage identity and creativity in order to develop new ideas and create new connections.

Situated in the former industrial district of Bologna, the center offers rotating temporary exhibitions and cultural activities offered free of charge to the public of all ages within its spaces. Fondazione MAST aspires to be “an open place where citizens can enjoy access to learning, arts, and photography of the working world, a cultural destination that stimulates and engages, combining, personal growth and well-being,” as they mention on their website.

This is the perfect place to visit if you want to explore more avant-garde exhibitions and have an eye for projects that incorporate science and technological elements, especially if you are passionate about emerging artists.

Fondazione MAST
Via Speranza, 42, 40133 Bologna BO
Info and opening hours:

Adelaide Cioni. Drawings for Myself – Exhibition View | Photo: Gallery P420

3. Gallery P420: A Haven for Art Enthusiasts

Heading back to the city center, one of my favorite places in Bologna is Gallery P420. Not only do they have a super cool space, but they also work with very interesting artists and have a very international approach to the gallery. 

Tucked away in the vibrant district of Porto, Gallery P420 showcases a curated selection of cutting-edge works by both established and emerging artists, and captivates visitors with its thought-provoking exhibitions and intimate ambiance. Founded in Bologna in 2010 by Alessandro Pasotti and Fabrizio Padovani, from the beginning P420 has focused on artists whose work can be positioned in the areas of Conceptual and Minimal Art, mostly active in the 1960s and 1970s, who have developed a solid personal language but are still underestimated and unfamiliar to a wider audience. More recently, presenting artists from younger generations, P420 has set out to compare languages belonging to different periods, with the aim of making timely aspects emerge.

Definitely one of the best contemporary art galleries in Italy, the gallery is a must-visit for all contemporary art lovers in Bologna. 

Gallery P420
Via Azzo Gardino, 9 – Bologna
Info and opening hours:

Vanni Spazzoli. Orizzonti – Exhibition view | Photo L’ARIETE artecontemporanea

4. L’ARIETE artecontemporanea: Nurturing Emerging Talent

Just steps away from the San Petronio Basilica, in the very center of Bologna, L’Ariete provides a welcoming space for artistic exploration. Directed, since 1983, by Patrizia Raimondi, the gallery dedicates its exhibition projects to the dialogue between protagonists and emerging artists on the contemporary art scene. In the past 40 years, the Gallery has presented exhibitions dedicated to figures of modern and contemporary research from a range of different fields, from German avant-garde to South African art, as well as works by international authors and young artists of the latest generations proposed for their technical and poetic quality. A constant commitment is the scouting of young talents of which the gallery promotes public and private projects and supports their research. With a focus on innovative contemporary works, Gallery L’Ariete offers a refreshing perspective on the evolving landscape of the art world, presenting exhibitions both in its spaces and in collaboration with private and public institutions nationally and internationally. 

L’ARIETE artecontemporanea
Via Marsili, 7, 40124 Bologna BO
Info and opening hours:

Mikael Lo Presti. Home as a Silhouette – Exhibition view | Photo NEVVEN

5. NEVVEN: An International Space

A recent addition to the list of my favorite spaces in Bologna is the NEVVEN gallery, which I discovered during the latest ArtCity weekend. Originally from Sweden, the gallery opened a branch in Bologna in January 2024 in the very center of the city and makes for a perfect stop while strolling around the portici. 

NEVVEN is an international non-profit hybrid art project, with another gallery space in Göteborg, Sweden. Situated at the meeting point between a diffused kunsthalle and a multinational art gallery, NEVVEN promotes an intersectional perspective on the ultra-contemporary art scene and curates a diverse output of exhibitions, disseminative events, and contents in partnership with different public and private institutions. If you are looking for cutting-edge art, this is the spot for you! 

Str. Maggiore, 28/A – Bologna
Info and opening hours:

Cover image by PICSAR on Unsplash