Italy is an open-air museum. Whether it’s Roman ruins or Renaissance palazzi, Etruscan artefacts or Mediaeval fortresses, the Bel Paese offers culture and history you could explore for days, years, even decades.
But it’s not just monuments and architectural marvels. From north to south, the boot-shaped country also has plenty of cool contemporary art, museums and galleries to keep you busy – proof that it can balance old and new with perfect flair.
Below, we’ve rounded up some of the most noteworthy art happenings for the season ahead, so that you can add them to your calendar if you’re planning a visit (or persuade you to book an Italian trip this fall, in case you need some extra convincing).
Venice: The 59th Venice Biennale
The Venice Biennale is one of the world’s most important art events, and you can still catch it if you travel to the Serenissima this fall. The 59th edition, curated by Cecilia Alemani, is titledThe Milk of Dreams, after a children’s book of the same name by the late artist and author Leonora Carrington, and is filled not just with wonderfully creative artworks, but also a robust roster of female artists.
The main action is at the central show, housed in a series of sprawling industrial buildings in an old dockyards area known as Arsenale, and in the main pavilion of the Giardini della Biennale, where most national pavilions are found (there are 29 countries, including the UK, France, Japan, Brazil and the US). But don’t skip the series of satellite or “collateral” exhibitions and pop-up events dotted throughout the city, which transform Venice into the coolest exhibition space there ever was.
Padova: Futurismo 1910-1915. La nascita dell’avanguardia
An Italian art movement of the early 20th century that aimed to capture the dynamism and energy of the modern world, Futurism was launched by the Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in 1909, when he published his Manifesto of Futurism on the front page of the Paris newspaper Le Figaro.
This exhibition, at Padova’s Palazzo Zabarella, aims to investigate its origins in an unprecedented way, and to challenge the cultural and figurative assumptions on the roots, themes and ideas that first contributed to the birth and then explosion of Futurism as one of contemporary Western art’s most disruptive expressions.
Expect some 100 works taking over the rooms of Palazzo Zabarella, all belonging to a rather narrow chronological timeline – 1910 to 1915, when the publication of the Manifesto of the Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe and Italy’s entry into WWI marked a clear watershed in the movement’s artistic research.
Best for: Those keen to learn more about Italian contemporary art
The first retrospective in Italy dedicated to German polymath Max Ernst, this behemoth exhibition at Milan’s Palazzo Reale will feature over 400 works from the artist, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, collages and illustrated books, to showcase the multifaceted universe of one of the most important interpreters of the Dada and Surrealist movements of the 20th century.
Palazzo Reale itself is a must-visit if you’re in town – the late 18th century neoclassical building served as the seat of government in Milan for many centuries, and while most its opulent interiors were destroyed by WWII bombs, it remains a symbol of the city.
Poet, filmmaker, writer, visual artist and thinker, Pier Paolo Pasolini is considered one of the defining public intellectuals of 20th-century Italy. This retrospective, conceived to mark 100 years since his birth (1922-2022), focuses on one of his lesser-known talents – his paintings –and it’s the first of this kind in over 40 years.
Over 150 works, borrowed from the Gabinetto Scientifico Letterario G.P. Vieusseux of Firenze – which holds the most important collection of works by the writer and director to date – the Cineteca di Bologna Foundation, the Pier Paolo Pasolini Studies Centre in Casarsa as well as private collectors, chart Pasolini’s pictorial beginnings and evolution, spanning portraits, still lifes, landscapes and a series of intimate pieces that document his exceptional artistic experimentation.
Best for: Cinema buffs and Italian culture aficionados