10 of the Best Exhibitions in Italy in 2021

by Andrea Gambaro  |  Published April 20, 2021

Amidst Covid-19 restrictions, museums and galleries in Italy are moving forward with their programmes wherever possible. We’ve selected some of the best exhibitions scheduled for 2021 across the country.

Rome’s MAXXI, National Museum of 21st-Century Arts (Photo: hillman54 via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Showcases of works created by often-overlooked female artists feature widely on the Italian art calendar this year, from late-Renaissance painters to forty contemporary artists brought together at Rome’s Galleria Nazionale. Great poet Dante Alighieri is also in the spotlight, 700 years after his death, in the city of Ravenna. Photography lovers have plenty of great exhibitions to explore, while highlights in the contemporary art world include the solo shows of Jeff Koons and Bruce Nauman.

Un’Epopea Pop

On the year marking the 700th anniversary of Dante Alighieri’s death, this double exhibition offers a fresh angle on his enduring legacy. A rich collection of text and images explores the far-reaching influence the author of the ‘Divine Comedy’ has had over the centuries, establishing a direct link between pop culture and the highest ranks of world literature. Alongside it, a contemporary art show cherry picks works that are independent of Dante’s world, but akin to it in terms of themes and concepts. ‘Un’Epopea Pop’ is the main of three Dante exhibitions held this year in Ravenna, the resting place to the sommo poeta.

Museo d’Arte della Città di Ravenna, Via di Roma 13, Ravenna / 04 September 2021 – 09 January 2022

‘Sacral’, Edoardo Tresoldi (Photo: Fabiano Caputo, courtesy of Museo d’Arte della Città di Ravenna)


Rome’s MAXXI hosts the Italian premiere of this monographic exhibition by Sebastião Salgado. The prominent Brazilian photographer spent six years in the Amazon rainforest, investigating the frailty of an endangered ecosystem through the native communities which inhabit it. Forest-themed field recordings play in the background of over 200 photos, enhancing the evocativeness of Salgado’s black and white work. An immersive experience bringing together striking images and the soundscapes created by Jean-Michel Jarre.

MAXXI, Via Guido Reni 4a, Rome / 01 October 2021 – 13 February 2022

Yanomami shaman, Amazonas State (Photo: Sebastião Salgado / Contrasto, courtesy of MAXXI)

Le Signore dell’Arte

This all-female exhibition presents 34 painters from the 16th and 17th centuries, whose stories stand out both for their social relevance and artistic genius. Over 130 works include iconic paintings such as ‘Judith with the Head of Holofernes’, completed in 1596 by Milanese artist Fede Galizia. The most prominent figures on display also include Lavinia Fontana and Artemisia Gentileschi, the latter featuring a distinctive Caravaggesque style. Some of the artists on show are to be unveiled to the public for the first time.

Palazzo Reale, Piazza del Duomo 12, Milan / 02 March 2021 – 25 July 2021

‘Judith with the Head of Holofernes’ (Photo: Gianfranco Fortuna, courtesy of Arthemisia)

I Gladiatori

The Roman warriors take centre stage at Naples’ archaeological museum. A collaboration with sister institutions in Basel and Rome, this major exhibition is divided into six sections which recount not only the performance out in the arena, but also the ‘behind the scenes’ of a gladiator’s life. Around 170 artefacts are displayed, including fifty weapons from the MANN’s own collection. The international loans comprise an impressive 2nd-century floor mosaic from Augusta Raurica, shown for the first time outside Switzerland.

Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, Piazza Museo 19, Naples / 31 March 2021 – 30 Jun 2021

Bruce Nauman: Contrapposto Studies

Multidisciplinary artist Bruce Nauman looks back on one of his early video works, ‘Walk with Contrapposto’ (1968), where he taped himself striking poses as he proceeded along a narrow wooden corridor. A series of videos produced in recent years uses new technologies to re-elaborate the original concept, further exploring the idea of contrapposto pose (counterpoised) from classic composition to experimental art. More works feature alongside this study, offering an immersive and comprehensive experience of Nauman’s practice.

Palazzo Grassi, Campo San Samuele 3231, Venice / 25 May 2021 – 09 Jan 2022

‘Walks In Walks Out’, Bruce Nauman (Photo: Bruce Nauman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy of Sperone Westwater, New York, via Palazzo Grassi)

Io Dico Io – I Say I

This collective show promotes a blunt reflection on the present times through the work of forty women from different periods and artistic backgrounds. A variety of approaches forming a composite, non-linear narrative that defies established structures and sets of ideas. The works on display focus strongly on self-narration, tackling themes such as the body, the concept of limit, trespassing, writing as a practice, and the challenges to existing roles. It’s a multifaceted show aiming to offer fresh viewpoints on the current state of feminism.

Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Via delle Belle Arti 131, Rome / 01 March 2021 – 25 May 2021

Martin Parr

Martin Parr’s photography has always had sport as a favourite subject. Tennis in particular will be the focus of this solo exhibition co-organised by Turin’s CAMERA and Lavazza, which runs parallel to the first-ever ATP finals to be held in the Piedmont capital. Through a selection of shots spanning his whole career, Parr uses sport to compose a cynical and ironic portrait of contemporary society, in keeping with the iconic style which has made him famous worldwide.

CAMERA, Via delle Rosine 18, Turin / 28 October 2021 – 13 February 2022

US Open, New York, 2017 (Photo: Martin Parr / Magnum Photos, courtesy of CAMERA – Centro Italiano per la Fotografia)

Jeff Koons. Shine

Starting from the 1970s, Jeff Koons has established himself as a leading figure in the contemporary art scene. His largest Italian show to date centres on the concept of ‘shine’, which has informed much of the artist’s style and aesthetic. A wide selection of paintings and sculptures showcases Koons’ ability to merge the dull and the sublime, creating striking narratives which explore the intersections between high art and everyday life.

Palazzo Strozzi, Piazza Strozzi, Florence / 02 Oct 2021 – 30 Jan 2022

Steve McCurry. Icons

This exhibition brings one of the great photographers of our time to the town of Conegliano, 60 km north of Venice. Over 100 shots offer a compelling overview of Steve McCurry’s work, starting from the historic reportages from India and Afghanistan which marked the early stages of his career. The human angle is central throughout his photography, best known for its powerful and startling portraits.

Palazzo Sarcinelli, Via XX Settembre 132, Conegliano / 06 October 2021 – 12 February 2022

Papua New Guinea, 2017 (Photo: Steve McCurry, courtesy of Artika Eventi)

Fede Galizia. Amazzone della Pittura

Fede Galizia was a portrait and still-life painter who lived in Milan at the turn of the 17th century. ‘Amazon of Painting’ investigates the great success she had as a female artist living at that time, within the historical context of the Counter-Reformation. Naples, Monaco and the Habsburg court were some of the places where her work was commissioned, which testifies to her fame reaching far beyond the Lombard capital. Fede Galizia’s family hailed from the northern Italian city of Trento, which is now hosting her first-ever solo exhibition.

Castello del Buonconsiglio, Via Bernardo Clesio 5, Trento / 03 July 2021 – 24 October 2021