Best of Contemporary Art in Rome

It had been many years since I last visited Rome, so I really enjoyed getting reacquainted with the art scene in the Eternal City and was nothing but impressed by it.  First of all, the past few years have given rise to a renaissance in contemporary art that hasn't been present in Rome for quite some time. Second, there is a great emphasis in showing Italian artists (although there is plenty of international too) so the discovery is consistent and the galleries and museums offer programming that is refreshing and unique.

Here is my selection of what to visit while in Rome:

1.       The Maxxi: This museum only opened in 2010 after a 10-year delay in its projected opening date.  Some people blame the hold-up to architect Zaha Hadid others to the Italian government.  Whatever the case, the building is very impressive, although at times I felt it overwhelmed the art.  The spaces are sinuous and the hallways quite ample.  The current shows were magnificently curated and very much up to par with the rest of the world.  The retrospectives of Maurizio Nannucci and of Olivo Barbieri are two heavyweight shows happening concurrently, which is usually a difficult feat to pull off even by major institution standards.

2.       The Macro:  This was the more cutting-edge institution before Maxxi opened its doors.  With two locations (which honestly makes exploring the museum a bit cumbersome), the Macro was well worth the price of admission.  This time they had a very cool show by 17 Italian women artists that were diverse in their generations and in the mediums they use. From ceramics to works on paper from Carla Accardi and Benedetta Bonicci, this show deserves special mention for being remarkably moving.  The highlight of the second location, called “Macro Testaccio,” is a solo show by the super prolific New York-based painter Josh Smith, who is well known for his abstract pieces as well as his name paintings.

3.       Galleria Nazionale d’arte Moderna: This glorious museum was the best surprise I could have found and I was lucky enough to have had it steps away from my hotel.  The impressive building is from 1883 and the space has evolved to mainly host impressionist, modern and contemporary collections from Italian artists.  The halls and rooms are expansive, the curation feels very elegant, and there is gorgeous light almost everywhere. I was very, very excited to see Luzio Fontana pieces along Cy Twombly and Michelangelo Pistoletto mixed with Alexander Calder and Alighiero Boetti.  Heavenly.  The current show “Corporate Art” was an unexpected highlight of works commissioned by Italian companies to a variety of artists and designers.

4.       Palazzo delle Esposizioni:  This building is the largest interdisciplinary exhibition space in Rome and right now there is a retrospective of David LaChapelle’s work entitled “After the Deluge” which derives from a massive photograph that David conceived years ago after spending time looking at Michelangelo’s work at the Sistine Chapel. If you go to the Palazzo at night, the upstairs restaurant and bar, Open Colonna, is not only stunning but also delicious. 

5.       Galleria Borghese:  Although not contemporary, The Villa, which is filled with the Borghese family collection of Berninis and Caravaggios and many more old masters, is hosting a large retrospective of  Azzedine Alaïa.  More than a fashion designer, Alaïa is considered an artist whose creations are sculptural pieces of haute couture.

6.       Galleria Lorcan O’Neill: Lorcan is an Irish man with such a sharp vision that he has been able to recruit some of the most incredible talent in contemporary art, including Eddie Peake and Rachel Whiteread.  The biggest treat was finding a Tracey Emin solo show with brand new pieces I had never seen before.

7.       Gagosian Gallery:  The gorgeous round-shaped gallery makes the space alone worth the visit.  The fact that I experienced the show of young Italian artist, Piero Golia, made it all the more interesting. 

8.       Galleria Marie-Laure Fleisch:  This is a relatively small gallery with very cool rustic floors and whose shows happen to be edgy and exquisitely curated.  The current exhibit is a two-female artist show: Hilla Ben Ari from Israel (whose contribution to the show was with video art) and Alice Cattaneo from Italy (who had floor sculptures throughout the space)  .