In 1947 the Municipality of Milan, pressed by the need to find a new exhibition space for contemporary art, focused its attention on the site of the ex-stables of Villa Belgiojosa, destroyed by bombing in 1943, even though questions had first been raised over the future of the neo-classical Villa designed in 1790 by Leopoldo Pollack as far back as the 1920’s when it was donated to the City by the Savoys. It was decided to use the Villa as a site for the Galleria d’Arte Moderna, although the exhibition spaces were too small to house the more recent works of art and at the time such a museum of contemporary art seemed to have potential for growth. Projects for the ex-stables site were based on two basic approaches: one favoured faithful reconstruction of the original architecture with modifications to the interior, while the other tended towards the construction of a completely new building entirely designed for the needs and functions of a museum.
The design by the architect Ignazio Gardella was preliminarily selected in March 1948. According to this design the building was to be on the same site as the outhouses, divided on two floors visible from the park, but with only one floor facing Via Palestro, from which the building would be separated by a solid wall in stone slabs.
L.Pollack, Villa Belgiojoso, 1790 (plan)
Gardella was officially appointed as architect in 1949.
Guidelines issued by the Ministry of Fine Arts stated that the architecture of a museum should meet the fundamental needs to provide a maximum of interior space (with great flexibility and possibility to partition spaces) and to allow adjustment and differentiation of the light in different areas. The requirement was for a design in which the areas could be divided and reorganised without losing the original unity of the interior.
Gardella’s design solved this twofold problem excellently with a perimeter forming a trapezoid area, divided vertically on three levels. The museum appears to be divided on three distinct but connecting floors, each with different luminous spaces.
The first area, designed for sculpture, is on the same level as the park and connected to it by a large window. The second area, designed for paintings, is on a raised level and in the original design can be partitioned using mobile walls. It receives light from above through skylights which allow the amount of light to be adjusted. The third area, designed for drawings, prints, photographs and objects is a rectangular gallery, is on a higher level still, with a balcony looking onto the second area; it is lit by artificial lighting.
The Pavilion was inaugurated in 1954 as a home for 20th Century collections but was immediately obliged to meet the demands for cultural exchanges with other countries that were expressed with urgency after the war. As a result the Pavilion started to put on exhibitions, beginning with one on Georges Roualt, though not continuously and this activity alternated with the use of its space as a museum in the desire to conserve its institutional vocation.
In 1979, the PAC reopened after a long period of closure for renovations, to function as a site for housing temporary exhibitions on a regular basis, not necessarily divided according to the original characteristics of the interiors with each designed to display traditional types of art. In fact the flexibility of this historical example of museum architecture allowed the Pavilion to free itself from the separate confines of different artistic techniques by the way the display gareas, designed by Gardella, all rotate around a central space or hub that holds the balance between them and by the chance for the eye, in passing, to take in slanting glimpses of other display areas. It functions as a place that is receptive to and in tune with new and heterogeneous types of art. As a result, the display space acted as a neutral container, as involved in the "dialogue" or as part of the artist’s creation according to the type of exhibitions and the different types of work presented.
In 1993 a Mafia bomb destroyed the PAC, at a moment in history when the country was heavily committed in its fight against this organisation; the cost of this fight was a completely unexpected and violent attack on the symbols of culture and art in Italy.
The PAC was reconstructed by Ignazio Gardella according to the original design, though with key technical improvements, which now make it one of the most advanced galleries of its time, and in 1996 it resumed its normal activity.
Daily 9.30 am – 7 pm
Thursday until 9.00 p.m.
Closed on Monday