Postcards from Italy

Open-Air Art in Italy

For most art enthusiasts, Italy is a dream destination. Home to some of the world’s most prestigious and significant art collections that span from ancient times to the 21st century, this country boasts the lion’s share of famous masterpieces that form the backbone of any Art History 101 course.

That said, the thought of visiting a crowded museum may give pause to even the most ardent art aficionado this year. Despite limiting daily visitors and enforcing strict social distancing, museums are still largely enclosed spaces shared with strangers—something that will probably take some getting used to for many of us.

If you’re eager to experience art in Italy but still wary indoor galleries, here are a few open-air options to consider:

Arte Sella

Arte Sella
“Arte Sella” by Olga via Flickr, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Located in the Val di Sella (Sella Valley) in the far northern reaches of Trento, this unique outdoor sculpture collection is made up of contemporary experimental sculptures and installations created out of organic materials that are left to naturally decay in their forest setting. Since 1986, the town of town of Borgo di Levico has hosted a bi-annual open-air art exhibition, and the works amassed over time now line a sculpture trail called Arte Natura which is open all year round, free of charge. Arte Sella also hosts other temporary exhibitions throughout the year; there is an admission charge for special events.

Peggy Guggenheim Collection: Nasher Sculpture Garden

Sculpture Garden at Palazzo Guggenheim
“Sculpture Garden at Palazzo Guggenheim” by Sarah-Rose via Flickr, licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Set in the grand Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on Venice’s Grand Canal, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection is considered one of the most important groupings of modern art in Italy. Many don’t know, however, that the collector’s home-turned-museum also host an excellent outdoor exhibition space: the Nasher Sculpture Garden. A rotating roster of sculptures and works on long-term loan from the Nasher Collection in Dallas, as well as works from the Guggenheim Collection itself. The permanent works include sculptures by Dan Graham, Alexander Calder, Anish Kapoor, and David Smith.

Fattoria di Celle

“Labirinto” by Vanni Bassetti via Flickr, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Scattered throughout the vast grounds (over 70 acres) surrounding historic Villa Celle outside Pistoia are dozens of site-specific contemporary sculptures amassed over the years by collectors Giuliano and Pina Gori. In 1982, the couple opened their estate to visitors who wanted to take in the original 16 works—today, there are more than 80 contemporary installations around the villa by artists including Ian Hamilton Finlay, Robert Morris, Richard Long, Alberto Burri, Beverly Pepper, and Richard Serra; more are added each year. Visits are by appointment only from May through September each year. 

Boboli Garden

Photo by CIUTravel

Not all open-air art in Italy is contemporary. One of the most enchanting outdoor spaces in all of Italy is Florence’s famed Boboli Garden behind the imposing Pitti Palace. These 16th-century Italianate grounds were commissioned by the Medici family as their lavish private garden and are decorated with an impressive collection of Renaissance and Mannerist statues and fountains, as well as grottos (the Buontalenti Grotto is a highlight) and nymphea, pavilions, and temples. Stroll the well-tended lanes to admire art and architecture by masters like Vasari, Buontalenti, and Lorenzi. You can even take in copies of works by Michelangelo; the originals are now displayed safely indoors.

Chianti Sculpture Park

'The Labryinth'
“The Labryinth” by Angus Hamilton Haywood via Flickr, licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Just outside Siena and surrounded by the vineyard-covered hills of the Chianti, this sculpture opened in 2004 with a collection of more than 20 works by international sculptors in the permanent collection. Highlights include Benbow Bullock’s 32-foot burnished steel column, “Homage to Brancusi” and Jeff Saward’s glass “Labyrinth”, but there are dozens of captivating site-specific works lining the path through the estate’s 17 acres of thick oak woods. The park also includes an outdoor aphitheater where concerts and events are held in summer. The park is open daily from 10:00 a.m. – sunset.

Giardino dei Tarocchi (Tarot Garden)

Card XIX - The Sun
“Card XIX – The Sun” by Yellow.Cat via Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Reminiscent of works by Spainìs Gaudì in form and technique, the 22 sculptures that represent the 22 major arcana from the tarot deck created by French artist Niki St Phalle charm with their whimsical style and bright colors. Set in a crescent-moon shaped garden in Tuscany’s Maremma, these impressive works are made in reinforced concrete and covered with mosaic-like fragments of mirror, colored glass, and ceramic tile; some are over three stories tall. The garden is open from April to October in the afternoon.

Bomarzo Monster Park (Sacro Bosco)

Photo by ladabar via Flickr, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Arguably the most family-friendly sculpture park in Italy, Bomarzo’s Sacro Bosco (Sacred Wood) is more commonly known as the Monster Park because of its collection of immense carved animals, sirens, goddesses and heroes, sphinxes, and other mythological creatures. Located near Viterbo in Lazio, the park was created in the 16th century by architect Pirro Logorio for Prince Pier Francesco Orsini after the death of his beloved wife, Giulia Farnese. To soothe his grief, the prince decided to create a “villa of wonders”, or a garden featuring monumental statues carved from blocks of peperino, a local volcanic rock. About 30 sculptures and structures inspired by Greek mythology and the Italian Renaissance are housed in the park, along with the mausoleum dedicated to Giulia, known as The Temple of Eternity. The park is open daily all year round.


“Pollino” by Francesco Cirigliano via Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0

With the lofty goal of “promoting the discovery of Pollino Park through contemporary art”, ArtePollino has been collaborating with other contemporary art collections across Italy since 2008 to create ambitious open-air artworks. From Anish Kapoor’s “Earth Cinema”, where you can pause to listen to the echo of Mother Earth as suggested by the artists, to “RB-Ride”, a colorful working carousel designed by Carsten Holler, this under-the-radar collection includes surprisingly provocative and impressive pieces.

Fiumara D’Arte

Piramide del 38° parallelo
“Piramide del 38° parallelo” by Claudio Limina via Flickr, licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

This series of sculptures installed along the banks of Sicily’s Tusa River is the passion project of collector Antonio Presti. The works are designed to complement the surrounding landscape without dominating or detracting from its pristine beauty. Highlights include the pyramid erected by Mauro Staccioli on a hilltop in Motta d’Affermo and the “Monument for a Dead Poet” in Tano Festa, also known as the “Window on the Sea”. Set on the northern coast of the island, the works are free and open to the public all year round.

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