It’s been repeatedly said that Rome is an open-air museum. More than 2,500 years of visible history — monuments, churches, palaces, archaeological sites and museums — is at your doorstep. It may seem like the Eternal City has nothing new left to be discovered off the so-called beaten path, but that’s not the case. Hiding in plain view at the edge of city park Villa Borghese is La Galleria Nazionale, Italy’s underrated national gallery for modern and contemporary art.
Since its founding in 1883, La Galleria has served as the city’s go-to destination for learning what happened after Michelangelo, Caravaggio and Canova. For several decades, the collection of more than 1,000 sculptures and paintings from Italian and international artists has been a tried-and-true chronological curation of creativity. However, times call for change, and new director Cristiana Collu has turned La Galleria inside out for a 2016 reboot.
Here are the reasons why we still love this irresistible art repository.
Time Is Out of Joint
Collu’s floor-to-ceiling reinvention consists of a new way of seeing art. The exhibition is no longer chronological. Now, it’s more of a mash-up of artwork that plays on timelessness and nowness, an environment where genres, eras and movements overlap.
In terms of physical space, the gallery is now an open forum with sunlight streaming in through previously covered windows. The stark white walls offset the colorful works, while the large, luminous rooms are the perfect home for the pieces.
If you’re seeking dynamic photo opportunities, this is the place. And if you’re looking for a lesson in what happened to Italian art, La Galleria provides more than a few answers.
Caffè delle Arti
If time is out of joint, then consider Caffè delle Arti a blast from the past. Taking residence in the northwest portico, La Galleria’s restaurant-in-residence features a beautiful Beaux Arts-enclosed porch area with original wall paintings and stucco molding.
The outdoor terraced porch with neoclassical columns is quintessentially Roman. The cafe is a delightful spot for a snack, lunch or cocktail in between your museum trek.
Bonus points go to its great hours: It’s open Monday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Tuesday through Sunday 8 a.m. to midnight.
La Galleria likes to keep its doors open — physically and virtually — with #EmptyLaGalleriaNazionale, an Instagram project inspired by the #EmptyMet campaign pioneered by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The social media outreach program brings the art world firmly into the 21st century. A maximum of 15 visitors are invited to a two-hour private walk-through of La Galleria, where you can get creative with your smartphones and broadcast your visit on social media.
If you’re heading to Rome, send a direct message via Instagram to @LaGalleriaNazionale and ask to take part in the next installment.