From Napoleonic art institutions to contemporary art spaces, Milan’s museums and galleries offer a glimpse into the city’s past and future. Here are ten of the best.
A common theme in Milan is the presentation of the city’s unique cultural heritage and future-oriented projects, and its artistic landscape is no exception. Art galleries and museums offer compelling exhibitions of the artistic movements that have flourished here over the centuries, led by the likes of Leonardo da Vinci and Caravaggio. The Futurists also left a lasting mark, paving the way for the modern style of the early 20th century. Last but not least is contemporary art, nurtured by bold architecture and innovative ideas meeting groundbreaking places with outstanding artists from the international scene.
Pinacoteca di Brera
In 1776, when Milan became the capital of the French-controlled Italian territory, Napoleon took over an art academy and established the Brera Gallery. Many of the paintings were brought here from the suppressed religious order throughout northern Italy, which explains the focus on sacred art from the 15th to the 16th century. The gallery then expanded to other regions and periods, and the assemblage is one of the best available collections of Italian art today. International artists are also included in the exhibition, and Brera Modern will open in 2021 at the nearby Palazzo Citterio.
Via Brera 26, 20121 Milano
An early 20th century brewery combined with impressive new architecture forms the Fondazione Prada. This contemporary art gallery opened its facilities in 2015, unveiling a project led by Dutch architect Rem Khoolaas. The complexity of the building makes it possible to display art in an original way, especially in the fair-faced concrete building, which is 60 meters high. Both permanent and temporary exhibitions feature internationally renowned artists, and the Children’s Academy is also part of the project. In recent years, the bar has been increasingly focused on cinema, and Wes Anderson aficionados may want to see the softly colored bar designed by the American director.
Museum of the Twentieth Century
Opened in 2010, the Museum of the Twentieth Century is a must-see for 20th century Italian art in Milan. Designed by Giuseppe Pellizza Da Volpedo, “The Fourth Order” introduces the collection, which is arranged chronologically on four floors. Futurism, Abstract Art, Poverty Art and Art Info are some of the featured movements, with avant-garde international artists. On the top floor is Lucio Fontana’s neon artwork, back-projected from behind the cathedral’s large windows. The unique spiral staircase is one of the architectural highlights of this historic building.
8,2012/3 Milan Cathedral Square
Converted from an industrial park, Pirelli HangarBicocca was founded in 2004 to promote contemporary art, research and experimentation. It is best known for the permanent exhibition “The Seven Heavenly Palaces 2004-2015” by Anselm Kiefer, while the temporary exhibitions hosts exhibitions by Marina Abramovich and Carsten Höller, among others. Each exhibition is the result of a rigorous interaction between the art and the exhibition space, which covers 15,000 square meters. Original features such as the “Shed”, “Cubo” and “Navate” reflect the industrial roots of the complex. Admission is free.
Via Chiese 2, 20126 Milano
The Ambrosiano church was founded in 1618 by a famous cardinal —- Federico Borromeo —-, who tried to provide free art education to talented students. Five rooms are dedicated to the private collection donated by the cardinal, including works by Caravaggio and Raphael. Other Italian masters on display in the gallery include Botticelli, Tiziano and Leonardo da Vinci. The adjacent library is another cultural theme in Milan and is part of the Borromeo project. One of the treasures preserved here is the Atlantic Codex, the largest surviving collection of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings and texts.
Piazza Pio XI 2, 20123 Milano
Female name, female name
This art and design space was built in 1933, when the three-year pavilion was moved from the nearby Monza River. It began to promote innovation through the interaction between art and industry, and its mission has not changed since years. It is home to the first Italian design museum, with collections ranging from artifacts and paintings to fashion and paper patterns. Architecture and visual arts are also part of the program, while the theater hosts performances, experimental art, projections and conferences. Every three years, the triennial Italian Architecture Triennale awards the Italian Architecture Gold Medal.
Viale Emilio Alemagna 6, 20121 Milano
Casa Museum Bostifano
Antonio Boschi and Marida di Stefano, who married in 1927, shared a passion for modern art. Their private collection exceeded 2,000 pieces, some of which are now on display in their historic home, according to Antonio’s will. Some 300 works are displayed in 11 rooms, providing a remarkable synopsis of Italian art of the last century. The decoration and furnishings are also noteworthy, although only a few original works can be preserved. Entry to this museum is free, and more works of art from the Boschi Di Stefano collection are on display at the Museum Museum of the Twentieth Century.
Via Giorgio Jan 15, 20129 Milano
The Mudec Cultural Museum presents a multidisciplinary journey across the world through a rich collection of art, artifacts, fabrics and musical instruments. Each section explores a different wave of ethnographic collections, from classic artifacts of the 17th century to the Milan International Fair held in 1906. In addition to the permanent collection, the museum hosts a series of temporary exhibitions, as well as events that promote cross-cultural dialogue among Milan’s many communities. With free access, the museum is another example of an industrial building converted for cultural purposes.
Via Tortona 56, 20144 Milano
American Society of Contemporary Artists
The Milan Pavilion, a historic contemporary art institution in Milan, was damaged in 1993 in a mafia-related bombing attack that killed five people. It has been restored and is identical to the original project, one of the first buildings in Italy designed specifically for the arts. Since its reopening in 1996, Pacific Art Center has promoted a thought-provoking approach to contemporary culture, including solo and group exhibitions of international artists. Many of the leading figures in contemporary art have been exhibited here.
Via Palestro 14, 20121 Milano
Modern Shopping Center
The Modern Art Gallery is located in Villa Reale, home to one of the best collections of the Museum of Neoclassical Architecture and Art in Milan. Designed by Leopoldo Pollack, the villa serves as a fitting backdrop for the 19th century art on display within. This is the main focus of the gallery, whose featured artists are Antonio Canova, Francesco Hayez and Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo. A smaller selection of later paintings is equally interesting, including Cézanne, Van Gogh, Manet, Gauguin and Picasso.
Via Palestro 16, 20121 Milano