Italian Futurism: Reconstructing the Universe (1909-1944)


Skyscrapers and Tunnels, Fortunato Depero, 1930

Skyscrapers and Tunnels, Fortunato Depero, 1930

They rejected everything including literature, beauty and women, yet the work of the Italian futurists reflects a shrewd analysis of movement and experimentation that was taking place during Fascist Italy. Their manifesto, one of the more notorious alongside the Communist Manifesto, professes a misogynistic, pro-war attitude that was reflected within their art making practices. Advocators of the movement- Filippo Tommaso Marinetti along with a small group of aspiring Futurists- climbed to the top of the famous clock tower in Venice and threw these manifestos down into the piazza San Marc:

We have been up all night, my friends and I, beneath mosque lamps whose brass cupolas are bright as our souls, because like them they were illuminated by the internal glow of electric hearts. And trampling underfoot our native sloth on opulent Persian carpets, we have been discussing right up to the limits of logic and scrawling the paper with demented writing.

Alongside this determination was a set of beliefs that defined the Futurist style not simply as an art movement but an entire way of life:

1. We want to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and rashness. 2. The essential elements of our poetry will be courage, audacity and revolt. 3. Literature has up to now magnified pensive immobility, ecstasy and slumber. We want to exalt movements of aggression, feverish sleeplessness, the double march, the perilous leap, the slap and the blow with the fist […] 7. Beauty exists only in struggle. There is no masterpiece that has not an aggressive character. Poetry must be a violent assault on the forces of the unknown, to force them to bow before man.

Now the collected works of Marinetti, Luigi Russolo, Umberto Boccioni, Giacomo Balla, Furtunato Depero, and Gino Severini are on exhibition at New York’s famous Guggenheim Museum, under the theme: Italian Futurism: Reconstructing the Universe (1909-1944), and I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to see the works, out from Italy for the fist time, in their entirety. Their philosophy, a celebration of all things geometric, rapid, revolutionary and chaotic, can be seen in visual art, newspaper clippings, film, and even furniture. The influence of the first World War is readily noticeable, with planes and birds-eye views becoming incorporated into their later works, including Death Loop and Flying over the Coliseum in a Spiral (Spiraling). The works appear, at first, juvenile and comedic, yet as the movement developed some fine works emerged, showcasing the meticulous detail with which the Futurists worked in order to convey an alternate reality of the world. Featuring bursts of colour and arcane, symmetrical landscapes, the work is aesthetically arresting, with bold shapes and visions of atmospheric cities and skies, and a daring manipulation of the urban environment. The Futurists pushed the limits of representation, envisioning a unique but ultimately unfulfilled version of the future in which they believed truly great art would prosper according to their beliefs. Yet with views on women and society that were ironically anachronistic, the movement slowed Post WWI. Following a revival that was known as ‘Second Futurism’ after World War I, the movement reached its pinnacle, before finally ending in 1944 with the death of its leader and founder Marinetti. Its legacy can be found in Dadaism, Surrealism, and Art Deco, though the movement is ultimately considered extinct.

The works are on display from February 21–September 1, 2014 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, New York City. This the first time the collection has been presented outside of Italy and in the United States.

Mercury Passing Before the Sun, Giacomo Balla, 1914

Mercury Passing Before the Sun, Giacomo Balla, 1914

Solidity of Fog, Luigi Russolo, 1912

Solidity of Fog, Luigi Russolo, 1912

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