How does one who is terrified of large crowd enjoy what is arguably the most touristy destination in the city of Milan? Museo 900 (Novencento) was my answer to the unhindered, spitting distance view of Milano Duomo without the hassle that you normally endure. Novencento is a museum of 20th century Italian art right at the foot steps of Milano Duomo and each floor offers unobstructed, majestic viewing experience of Duomo. I would have been happy to use each floor of this compact museum as the viewing deck at varying eye-levels but there was a whole world of modern Italian art to be discovered.
As Cinquecento refers to early Renaissance art of 16th century, Novencento refers to art of the last century. Novecento traces its roots to a group of artists who launched the movement at 1924 Venice Biennale but its origins go further back to the new generation of Italian futurists like Umberto Boccioni and Carlo Carra who went to Paris at the turn of the century and came back with a manifesto of futurism. Influences which would later be categorized as Impressionism. Expressionism, Cubism, Abstraction all appear in their early works and they are amply displayed in this Museum. Their artistic statements are open diatribe against then contemporary bourgeoisie’s cultural traditionalism and classicism for the sake of modernity.
The first room you enter is a bit of turn-of-the-century art onslaught with various masters littered in one little, unassuming corner. Braque landscape, Picasso and Matisse nudes, Cezzane and Modigliani portraits and Kandinsky composition are all jostling for elbow room in this small space. It’s the only museum I know that gets you inches close to the masters’ paintings – gallery viewing experience of sorts, rather than a museum. No tape, no barriers nor floor markers to separate you from exhilaration. As you wind your way up the five floors of exhibition space, it all culminates to the open loft space with spectacular view, again, of Duomo. Floor to ceiling windows are the perfect canvas to frame the magnificence of Duomo, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele and the spectacle of mass tourism in the Piazza. Taking a peek behind the escalator, there are steps up to another mezzanine above the loft and surprise encore presentation of sorts: a room dedicated to Lucio Fontana and his slit canvases.
Another motivation to make it to this building is to enter Giacomo Arengario, the restaurant at the fourth level of Novencento with views of Duomo (it helps to break the museum walk with a long boozy lunch). You come here to soak in the uninterrupted view away and above the crowd so expect a large bill (most starters and primi starts from eur20 and secondi from 30). One word of caution… If you’re avoiding pasta, the rest of the menu is primarily seafood (my amberjack ceviche and seabass with fruit salad were both excellent) so forget paring with Barolo or Brunello and go for beer or bianco).
As I sit back and indulge in my second glass of Orvieto and binge on more renaissance and medieval architecture across the balcony (Duomo now turned sparkling ivory under the mid-day sun) I muse at the contrast of modern art that I just left behind. Yes, there is modern art in Italy and not just by those who were directly influenced by turn-of-the-century French but rather by its own distinct futuristic tradition.
Best way to enter Novencento is by buying the 72hr Museum Pass for eur12 and get unlimited access to all Milano Civic Museums including Novencento (discounted to eur10, if you hold Milan Card, another necessity which gives you free 72hr pass to public transportation and other discounts around he city).
Museo Novecento Milano – Via Marconi 1, 20122, Milano, Italy
+39 2 8844 4061
Giacomo Arengario (entrance from inside Novecento on 4fl or through steps from ground level of Piazza Duomo)
+39 2 7209 3814