When it’s winter in Rome, do as the Romans do – soak up some culture in the great indoors! Italian cities like Rome, Florence and Venice are renowned as repositories of ancient art and architecture, but there’s a lot more. All three cities can boast some new and outstanding places where contemporary design and historic settings combine to create truly unique cultural experiences. All are popular, meaning that advance tickets are generally a good idea.
Rome’s National Museum of the 21st Century Arts, or MAXXI, takes modern art and design to the max – literally. The futuristic building, which is new but on the site of a former military barracks, contains a hefty 312,000 square feet of space, and was designed by star architect Zaha Hadid. Among the works on permanent display are those by the likes of Andy Warhol, Richer and Kandinsky, but the changing exhibits are what truly make the place shine – in addition to the dramatic structure itself.
Venice: Punta della Dogana
This former Venetian customs house on the triangular wedge of land across from Piazza San Marco and San Giorgio Island opened in 2009 as a rather brash center for contemporary art. The exceptional site is home to exhibitions from the permanent collection of François Pinault. Inside, the 17th-century trappings blend with a decidedly modern sensitivity, thanks to Japanese architect Tadao Ando’s bold use of concrete to reorient the layout and original wood beams now punctuated in places by skylights. The Punta della Dogana is open daily 10 a.m.-7 p.m. and closed Tuesday. Admission is 15 euros.
If you think Venice is all Carnival masques and Baroque finery, think again: the Palazzo Grassi is a perfect example of an old Venetian matron made inspiringly new. This neoclassical palazzo facing the Grand Canal from its position on the Campo San Samuele is a now a museum of contemporary art underwritten by the François Pinault Foundation. No matter when you visit, you can count on seeing works and installations from the top names in contemporary art, such as Maurizio Cattelan, Pino Pascali and Marisa Merz. The Palazzo Grassi is open daily 10 a.m.-7 p.m. and closed Tuesday. Admission is 15 euros.
Florence: CCC Strozzina and SUC
Florence’s 15th-century Palazzo Strozzi houses the city’s Center for Contemporary Culture Strozzina, or CCC Strozzina. Part of the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, the center gives Florence an international contemporary art centre worthy of the world stage. Rather severe on the outside, inside the center gleams with a sparkling renovation that represents a clear modern direction while always referencing the palazzo’s original features. In March, a new show opens, “Americans in Florence: Sargent and the American Impressionists.” The CCC Strozzina is open daily except Mondays. Florence’s Spazi Urbani Contemporanei, or SUC, is a vibrant center for contemporary arts on the site of a former 15th-century monastery. This space showcases works by emerging Italian and international artists.
Florence: Gucci Museo
The elegantly renovated Palazzo della Mercanzia in Florence dates to 1337. Since September, three of its floors have housed the new Gucci Museum. On the first floor there’s a Gucci Caffè as well as a bookshop and great boutique where you can buy items like chocolate and iPhone cases with the Gucci Museo trademark. The ground floor also has exhibition space focusing on vintage Gucci travel trunks and accessories. The branded Gucci theme continues on the second floor, where there’s also a Contemporary Art Space.
Have you visited one of these Italian museums? Which one is your favorite?