From a Napoleonic institution to contemporary art spaces, museums and galleries in Milan offer glimpses into both the city’s past and its future. Here are ten of the best.
A common theme in Milan is the presentation of the city’s exceptional heritage alongside future-oriented projects, and its art scene is no exception. Galleries and museums offer compelling displays of the artistic movements that flourished here over the centuries, led by the likes of Leonardo Da Vinci and Caravaggio. The Futurists too have left a lasting mark, paving the way for modern avantgardes at the dawn of the 20th century. Last but not least is contemporary art, fostered by boundary-pushing venues where bold architecture and innovative concepts meet prominent artists from the international scene.
Pinacoteca di Brera
Taking over an art academy opened in 1776, the Pinacoteca di Brera was founded by Napoleon as Milan became capital of the Italian territories controlled by the French. Many paintings were brought here from suppressed religious orders across Northern Italy, which explains the focus on sacred art from the 15th and 16th centuries. The gallery then extended its reach to other regions and periods, piecing together what is today one of the finest existing collections of Italian art. International artists are also featured, while the new Brera Modern is set to open at the nearby Palazzo Citterio in 2021.
Via Brera 26, 20121 Milano
An early-20th-century distillery combines with impressive new architecture to form Fondazione Prada. This contemporary art gallery opened its facilities in 2015, unveiling a project led by Dutch architect Rem Khoolaas. The architectural complexity allows for original ways to showcase art, especially in the fair-faced concrete tower rising 60 metres. Both permanent and temporary shows feature leading international artists, while a Children Academy is also part of the programme. The venue’s focus on cinema has been increasing in recent years, and Wes Anderson enthusiasts might want to check out the pastel-coloured bar designed by the American director.
Largo Isarco 2, 20139 Milano
Museo del Novecento
Opened in 2010, the Museo del Novecento is the place to go in Milan for Italian art from the 20th century. ‘The Fourth Estate’ by Giuseppe Pellizza Da Volpedo introduces the collection, which is arranged in chronological order across four floors. Futurism, Abstract Art, Arte Povera and Arte Informale are some of the featured movements, alongside avantgarde international artists. The top floor is dedicated to a neon artwork by Lucio Fontana, backdropped by the Duomo behind large windows. A distinctive spiral staircase is one of the architectural highlights of this historic building.
Piazza del Duomo 8, 20123 Milano
A converted industrial estate, Pirelli HangarBicocca launched in 2004 to promote contemporary art, research and experimentation. It is best known for a permanent show by Anselm Kiefer, ‘The Seven Heavenly Palaces 2004-2015’, while temporary exhibitions have hosted the likes of Marina Abramovich and Carsten Höller. Each show results from a strict interaction between art and the exhibition spaces, which stretch across 15,000 square metres. Original features such as the ‘Shed’, the ‘Cubo’ and the ‘Navate’ reflect the industrial roots of the complex. Entry is free.
Via Chiese 2, 20126 Milano
The Pinacoteca Ambrosiana was founded in 1618 by Federico Borromeo, a famous cardinal who sought to provide free art education to worthy students. Five rooms are dedicated to the private collection donated by the cardinal, which includes works by Caravaggio and Raphael. Other Italian masters featured in the gallery are Botticelli, Tiziano and Leonardo Da Vinci. The adjoining library is another cultural staple of Milan, and also part of Borromeo’s project. One of the treasures stored here is the Atlantic Codex, the largest existing collection of drawings and writings by Leonardo.
Piazza Pio XI 2, 20123 Milano
This art and design space launched in 1933 after the Triennale institution was moved from the nearby town of Monza. It set out to drive innovation through the interaction between art and industry, and its mission hasn’t changed since. It is home to the first design museum in Italy, whose collection ranges from artefacts and drawings to fashion garments and paper patterns. Architecture and visual arts also form part of the programme, while the theatre hosts performances, experimental art, projections and conferences. Every three years, the Triennale awards the Golden Medal for Italian Architecture.
Viale Emilio Alemagna 6, 20121 Milano
Casa-Museo Boschi Di Stefano
Married in 1927, Antonio Boschi and Marieda Di Stefano shared a passion for modern art. Their private collection amounted to over 2000 works, and according to Antonio’s will, a selection of it is now showcased at their historic residence. Around 300 works are displayed across 11 rooms, providing a remarkable compendium of Italian art from the past century. The décor and furnishings are also worthy of attention, although only a few original pieces could be conserved. Entry to this house-museum is free, and more artworks from the Boschi Di Stefano collection are displayed at Museo Del Novecento.
Via Giorgio Jan 15, 20129 Milano
The Mudec Museum of Cultures offers a multidisciplinary journey across the world through a rich display of art, artefacts, fabrics and musical instruments. Each section explores a different wave of ethnographic collecting, from the heritage of a 17th-century canon to the Milan International Expo held in 1906. Alongside the permanent collection, the museum hosts an eclectic program of temporary exhibitions, as well as activities which promote intercultural dialogue between the many communities based in Milan. Free to access, the museum is yet another example of industrial architecture converted for cultural purposes.
Via Tortona 56, 20144 Milano
Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea (PAC)
A long-established institution of contemporary art in Milan, the Pavilion was damaged in 1993 by a mafia-related bombing attack which killed five people. It has been restored identical to the original project, and is one of the earliest buildings in Italy to be designed specifically for art. Since reopening in 1996, the PAC has been promoting a thought-provoking approach to contemporary culture, including both solo and collective shows by international artists. Many leading figures of the contemporary art scene have been featured here.
Via Palestro 14, 20121 Milano
Galleria d’Arte Moderna (GAM)
The Gallery of Modern Art is housed at Villa Reale, one of the best examples of Neoclassical architecture in Milan. Designed by Leopoldo Pollack, the villa serves as a fitting backdrop for the 19th-century art displayed within. This is largely the focus of the gallery, which features artists such as Antonio Canova, Francesco Hayez and Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo. The smaller selection of later paintings is no less interesting, including the likes of Cézanne, Van Gogh, Manet, Gauguin and Pablo Picasso.
Via Palestro 16, 20121 Milano