Had Enough Old Stuff? Head for Rome’s Terrific Modern Art Museums

While Rome is known for its collections of Ancient, Renaissance, and Baroque art, perhaps there comes a time when you need something a little more … well, not so old. You’re in luck: Rome can serve up some terrific art museums with a modern flair.

MAXXI Museum, Rome
MAXXI Museum, Rome

The museum that’s generated the most buzz is MAXXI, Museo Nazionale Delle Arti del XXI Secolo (National Museum of the 21st Century Arts), located in the Flaminio neighborhood, a short tram ride away from Piazza del Popolo. Designed by international architect Zaha Hadid, it’s a long awaited addition to Rome’s art scene and definitely different. Made of concrete, the exterior consists of sharp and contrasting angles, while the inside is a complete surprise: undulating and twisting passages of light. It really is an interesting building to experience.

Giant furry "foot" installation at MAXXI
Giant furry “foot” installation at MAXXI

While the art has not always lived up to our expectations, visiting MAXXI is always fun. For a respite after viewing an exhibit, we’ll end up at the bar, which itself is a demonstration that modern doesn’t mean uncomfortable. If you do visit, check out the nice bathrooms there too. What we appreciated most on our last visit, earlier this year, was that the public part of MAXXI — the exterior space — appears to have become a part of the community. Kds play, people walk their little dogs, and locals chat, all enjoying the space as if it were an old piazza. It exemplifies how the Roman tradition gets imprinted on modernity.

MAXXI's pleasant outdoor area
MAXXI’s pleasant outdoor area

MACRO (Museo d’Arte Contemporanea di Roma) didn’t generate as much buzz as MAXXI did, but we actually prefer it. It has two branches: one housed in a former Peroni beer plant, which requires a short bus or taxi ride, and another in a former slaughterhouse in Testaccio.

MACRO's modern wing
MACRO’s modern wing

Our introduction to MACRO was the incredible installation, made merely of plastic trash bags, pictured at the top of this post. We’ve found the installations there to be stimulating, even playful. We love the catwalk within the museum,which gives you a completely different view of large installations beneath, and there’s a terrific rooftop area which, last time we saw it, had an installation of fabulous street art. Moreover, there’s a great bar and awesome light-up bathrooms. Seriously, the bathrooms may be the coolest in Rome.

For both MAXXI and MACRO, do some research first to see if there are specific exhibits you want to see: some appear much more interesting then others. (For some ideas of what prior shows have looked like, see our Pinterest boards on MACRO and MAXXI). And, there are times where the museums are between big installations, but may still charge full price.

Soon we’ll be heading over to MACRO Testaccio to see Big Bambú — should be terrific!