Let’s be honest, when we think of Rome, we immediately think of the Colosseum, the ancient ruins, and so forth. Little do people know that Rome is, in fact, one of the most active cities in Italy for contemporary art. 

With a growing number of art galleries, as well as well-established museums and private foundations, over the past few years the Eternal City has become a focal point for all the contemporary art lovers in Italy and beyond. To the point that it is now rivaling Milan as the “most hipster city” in Italy. 

I personally love Rome for its relaxed vibes and welcoming people. They might look harsh at first, or too posh at times, but “Romani” are some of the most welcoming people you will ever meet. Rome is a marvelous city, with its squares and thousands of churches (not joking here, Rome has more than 900 churches). You breathe history in Rome, from the Roman Empire down to the Popes in their Renaissance palaces and the contemporary architecture, and you feel how small and deciduous we are. There must be a reason why this city has been the capital city of the World for a long time!

With such a thrilling art scene and long history, we are exploring Rome today to discover the 3 top destinations for contemporary art. 

Peicurto, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea

Founded in 1883, “La Galleria Nazionale” – as we usually call it – has one of the biggest art collections in Italy and definitely the largest in Rome. It hosts, in fact, 20,000 works – paintings, drawings, sculptures, and installations – and offers a great view on art starting from the 1800s to today. The collection is primarily dedicated to Modern Art, with works by all the major Italian artists up to the 1940s and beyond, as well as works by some of the most renowned international artists of the past two centuries. 

Contemporary art at the Galleria Nazionale comes into play mostly with its rich program of temporary exhibitions, events, and installations. On this note, the Galleria Nazionale offers a compelling program that mixes the collection and its artists with contemporary masters and younger artists, giving the visitors a well-rounded idea of everything they can expect from the museum and the city of Rome. 

Plan a visit to the Galleria Nazionale on a sunny day and enjoy its collections and exhibitions, before marveling at the monumental building and ending up your tour with a nice picnic in the nearby park of Villa Borghese, another must-see in Rome. 

Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea
Viale delle Belle Arti, 131, 00197 Roma

Info, tickets, and opening hours: 

MACRO – Museo per l’Arte Contemporanea di Roma | Ph. Luigi Filitici | Courtesy MACRO Roma

MACRO – Museo di Arte Contemporanea di Roma

I guess that by now everyone knows about my passion (or better, obsession) for former industrial buildings turned into contemporary art centers. I know, I am so cliche! 

And MACRO did not disappoint me, as it occupies part of the building complex once used by the Birra Peroni Brewery for its production activities. Once used as stables and warehouses, it was later acquired by the City of Rome and turned into a museum in the 1980s. After long years of renovations and reconstruction, the MACRO museum reopened recently (just to be shut down, and reopened, and shut down again, because of COVID-19) more beautiful than ever. 
It also has a second location, in the Testaccio area, hosted in a former slaughterhouse, just to add an extra bit of interest to the whole industrial archeology frenzies! 

MACRO’s permanent collection includes a selection of some of the most significant expressions of the Italian art scene since the 1960s, basically continuing on an imaginary timeline where the collection of the Galleria Nazionale stops. Together with the permanent collection, which you can explore from the comfort of your couch on their frisky website, they also host temporary exhibitions. Those exhibitions are usually dedicated to younger artists, sometimes even emerging artists, with a keen eye for newer forms of art and recent researches in the art fields. 

MACRO in Rome is one of those contemporary art centers where you can easily spend a full day, wandering around and forgetting that you are in one of the most ancient cities in the World. 
Additional points for the underground parking (a rarity in Rome) and the rich calendar of events, to top off their already abundant program.

MACRO – Museo di Arte Contemporanea di Roma
Via Nizza, 138, 00198 Roma

Free entrance, with reservation
Info and opening hours

MAXXI – Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo

Last, but definitely not least, the MAXXI museum is one of the most famous contemporary art museums not just in Rome but in Italy in general. Located in the Flaminio neighborhood of Rome, the building was designed by Zaha Hadid, and won the Stirling Prize of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 2010.

The museum is divided into two different main sections, “MAXXI art” and “MAXXI architecture”, and focuses on the best art and architecture have to offer in the 21st Century. 
The art collection of the museum is stunning, to say the least, with artworks by all the major international artists, such as Alighiero Boetti, Kara Walker, Anish Kapoor, Gerhard Richter, Maurizio Cattelan, Vanessa Beecroft, Ugo Rondinone, and so on. It hosts temporary exhibitions, large scale installations, festivals, and events, as well as national and international prizes. At the same time, in the architecture section, we can find archives of incredible architects such as Carlo Scarpa, Aldo Rossi, or Pier Luigi Nervi.

You can easily reach the museum and its chic and Instagram-friendly building taking a nice stroll from Piazza del Popolo, in one of the best neighborhoods of Rome. 
And don’t forget to pay a visit to Ponte Milvio nearby while in the area. Ponte Milvio is the bridge where the love locks tradition originally started, before spreading around the world. Bring a padlock with you, for your love of contemporary art. But don’t attach it anywhere on the bridge, or you will get a 50€ fine! 

MAXXI – Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo
Via Guido Reni, 4a, 00196 Roma

Info, tickets, and opening hours: 

Did you like this article? Why not checking more destinations in Italy?
Like this article about Milan, or this other one about Turin.

Cover image by John Rodenn Castillo on Unsplash