I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that, in 32 years of life on this planet, it took me so long to visit Naples. I kept delaying and traveling abroad because I thought Naples would be too Italian, nothing really new to me. And yet, when I finally did, I was completely mesmerized.
When you have traveled a bit, you end up with your personal scale to measure how much you like or are impressed by a new destination. And sometimes you think nothing will ever compare to that one destination that you consider your personal favorite. That is why it took me so long to visit Naples. I thought it would be nothing more than Rome, beautiful of course, but nothing new.
The truth is, I was wrong.
Naples is a complex city, it has many different souls and a huge heart. You need to let yourself submerge by the city and its spirit, you need to let go of what you think you are and adapt to what surrounds you. It’s not a shiny, immaculate city, but in all its flaws, it is almost perfect.
Naples was on my 2021 traveling bucket list, and the fact that I was finally able to tick off one of those destinations despite half of the world still being in lockdown for the Covid pandemic, surely adds up to the excitement. And so does the amazing food, or the mouth-watering smells of pizza and sfogliatelle, not to mention the blue sea and the welcoming people of Napoli.
But Naples is far more than just a temporary thrill. I will be eager to go back there, to see it change, to immerse myself in the chaotic streets of its center, to breath in the smells of its sea and marvel at the gaze of the Vesuvio. And surely, I’ll go back to visit more of its amazing contemporary art museums, collections and galleries.
Because one further thing I discovered during my recent trip to Naples is that the city is amazingly rich in contemporary art. Private and public collections, as well as galleries, street and public art, can be found literally everywhere. And art is part of the Neapolitan spirit, so much so that it enriches the whole experience.
So here are five good reasons to visit Napoli and discover its contemporary art scene. You won’t find any gallery this time, as I visited in August and they were all closed for summer break, giving me yet another good reason to go back as soon as possible!
Madre – Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina
First and foremost, if you love contemporary art and you are in Naples looking for it, head down to the Madre museum. With a permanent collection and temporary exhibitions, it is the number one destination for every contemporary art lover in Napoli!
Hosted in a 19th-century building in the very center of Naples, the Madre museum has 3 floors filled with big installations and interesting exhibitions. The museum originally opened in 2005, when the Campania Regional Government purchased the building to turn it into a contemporary art museum after it was abandoned due to damages. The building was then restored and refurbished as a museum by the Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza Veira, which designed not only a section almost entirely dedicated to exhibitions but also a library, a media library, and a bookshop/cafeteria.
The permanent collection is exhibited on the first and second floors. Here you will find smaller rooms, each dedicated to an artist or movement. They have an amazing installation by Richard Serra, as well as Italian artists. Each room has a small introductory text, perhaps the worst thing about the museum. Just let yourself go with the flow and enjoy the collection, the artists are all well-known and you will have no problems recognizing them.
The third floor is usually used for temporary exhibitions. When I visited the museum, I found a particularly interesting group exhibition, entitled “Utopia Dystopia: the myth of progress seen from the South”, but they also host solo exhibitions by some of the most important contemporary artists.
The museum is just steps away from the Duomo, the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, and the Accademia di Belle Arti, making it super accessible and easy to reach.
Madre – Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina
Via Luigi Settembrini, 79, Napoli
Info, exhibitions and opening hours: www.madrenapoli.it
The Naples underground stations
As I said, art is part of the very spirit of Napoli. Whether related to food, porcelains, “presepi” or visual arts, Naples has contemporary art everywhere, including its subway system.
The original project for the so-called “Stazione dell’Arte” (Art Stations) came around in 1995, and it is partially still in development. One thing is for sure, over the years it has been praised and appreciated by locals and tourists alike. So much so that the Toledo station was awarded as the second most beautiful subway station in Europe by CNN, and n.1 most impressive station by The Daily Telegraph.
Originally meant as a requalification and expansion of the public transport system of the city, the stations were later designed to showcase contemporary artworks, not just as embellishments but as means to educate the passengers and get them acquainted with contemporary masters. As Achille Bonito Oliva (one of the most prominent Italian art critics of the last century) once said, the stations are “an obligatory museum”, where people are somehow forced to see the artworks and experience art directly.
The result is a system of 15 stations, along lines 1 and 6 of the local subway system, each of them presenting one or more installations or artworks. You will definitely pass through one or multiple of these stations during your stay in Naples, as they are close to all the best and most visited parts of the city. But if you have to choose just one, then head to Toledo or take the mandatory selfie with a mirror work by Michelangelo Pistoletto at Garibaldi, the main station of Napoli.
Fondazione Morra Greco
The Morra Greco Foundation is yet another great example of how Naples has a deep relationship not just with contemporary art itself, but to its collection and promotion.
The foundation lays its basis on the Morra Greco collection, a private collection started in the 1990s and that nowadays counts over 1000 artworks by 200 different contemporary artists. It was open in 2003, while the exhibition space opened its doors to the visitors from 2006, inside Palazzo dei Principi Caracciolo di Avellino, a 16th-century building that hosts the collection and temporary exhibitions.
The Morra Greco Foundation, though, is not just an exhibition space, but also hosts a residency program for artists. During their residency, the artists are asked to reflect on the palace and the city of Napoli, developing projects that are directly related to their experiences. At the same time, the Fondazione Morra Greco has a rich program of activities for all publics, with exhibitions, presentations, performances, but also workshops and kids activities.
To top it all off, the entrance is always free for all exhibitions, as the foundation’s main aim is to encourage the fruition of contemporary art. Needless to say, you have to include it in your itinerary for contemporary art in Naple!
Fondazione Morra Greco
Largo Proprio D’Avellino, 80138 Napoli
Info, exhibitions and opening hours: www.fondazionemorragreco.com
Local and international street art in the center of Napoli
As repetitive as it might sound, Napoli is full of art everywhere you look. And its streets are no exception. Wherever you go, you can spot stencils, graffiti, and all sorts of works. From local artists to international sensations like Banksy, Naples is filled with art at every corner. Some works are ironic and desecrating, like Banksy’s “Madonna con una pistola”. Others are filled with local history and significance, like the famous “Gennaro” by Jorit, an Italian street artist internationally known for his portraits. Here the artists depicted the patron saint of Napoli, San Gennaro, with his symbols and marks, using the face of one of the artist’s friends called Gennaro.
There is also a park in the Ponticelli area of Napoli, entirely dedicated to street art. But I would suggest you just walk around the center of the city, getting lost among the small streets and immersing yourself in the atmosphere of Spaccanapoli, the central street of the old historic center, looking around for witty and colorful murals.
Museo Hermann Nitsch
Fifth and final destination for contemporary art in Naples, the Museo Hermann Nitsch is definitely one of the best picks in the city. Nitsch is among my preferred artists, and his large-scale paintings as well as his visionary and uncanny performances back in the days, are some of my all-time favorites.
Promoted by Giuseppe Morra and the Morra Greco Foundation, the museum is “conceived as a space for the documentation and analysis of the philosophical, poetic and visual themes developed by the great Austrian artist”. The museum, thus, not only showcases some of Nitsch’s works, both canvases and videos of his performances, the so-called Aktionen of the Orgien Mysterien Theater. But it also displays the tools, processes, and overall the creative process behind the master’s works.
The layout of the museum changes every two years, and it is aimed at displaying not just the finished works but what lays behind them. At the same time, the museum hosts workshops and educational programs, readings, and talks. Hosted in a former factory built in 1892 to produce electricity, the Hermann Nitsch Museum encompasses the Collection, based on Nitsch’s installations and works from 1974 to the present day presented by the Morra Greco Foundation, the Centre for Documentation, Training and Research, the Library and Media Library, the Department for Independent Experimental Cinema, the Contemporary Music Audio Library, and the Education Department.
It is a magical experience to visit the museum as it is the perfect place to dive deeper into the Austrian master’s production and background while also feeling as if you are visiting his private studio and seeing the artist at work.
Museo Hermann Nitsch
Vico Lungo Pontecorvo, 29/d, 80135 Napoli
Info, tickets and opening hours: www.museonitsch.org/