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Futurism

Giacomo Balla

Umberto Boccioni

Carlo Carra

Gino Severini


 

FUTURISM:
Dynamism as the Expression of the Modern World

by Joshua C. Taylor

On February 20, 1909, the energetic bilingual poet and editor, F. T. Marinetti, publisher of the controversial literary magazine Poesia (Milan), announced the movement of Futurism in a belligerent manifesto published on the front page of the Paris newspaper Le Figaro. The term Futurism caught the imagination of writers and artists throughout the world, as did Marmetti's insistence that the artist turn his back on past art and conventional procedures to concern himself with the vital, noisy life of the burgeoning industrial city. In Italy a group of painters gathered with the poets around Marinetti in 1909 to work out the implications of his manifesto for the visual arts. They published first a general manifesto, "The Manifestos of Futurist Painters," in February 1910, then, in March, the more specific "Futurist Painting: Technical Manifesto." It was not until much later in the year, however, that the painting of the three most notable of the first signers, Carlo Carrà (1881-1966), Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916), and Luigi Russolo (1885-1947), showed revolutionary formal changes consistent with the procedures set forth in the Technical Manifesto. Originally the manifestoes were subscribed to also by Aroldo Bonzagni and Romolo Romani, but they soon dropped out, and Gino Severini (1883-1966), working in Paris, and Giacomo Balla (1871-1958), in Rome, joined Boccioni, Carrà, and Russolo to form the closely knit group of Futurist painters.

In painting, the Futurist movement has often been erroneously considered an offshoot of Cubism. Actually, both its roots and its goals were very different, being more closely allied with those of the new movement in German painting which eventually was called Expressionism. A part of the confusion arose from the insistence of the Paris painters in reading the Technical Manifesto with the analytical procedures of Cubism in mind. The Italians, as insistent on maintaining their independence as the school of Paris was in maintaining its artistic dominance, repeatedly pointed out the differences in angry articles appearing in the journal Lacerba, published in Florence. The confusion has persisted, however, because several of the Futurist painters, Boccioni, Carra, Soffici, and Severini (who, living in Paris, was familiar with Cubism from the first), appropriated aspects of the formal language of Cubism, using them to serve their own ends. Boccioni and Carra made contact with Cubist painting in 1911, first through publications, then on an autumn trip to Paris under the guidance of Severini. But the resemblance is superficial and, as Carra pointed out, both the purpose and the effect of their painting were different.

The first major exhibition of Futurist painting was held in Milan, opening 30 April 1911. Beginning with an exhibition at the gallery of Bernheim Jeune in Paris in February 1912, a group of Futurist works circulated through major European centers causing much comment and exerting considerable influence on public and artists alike. Exhibitions were held in England, Germany, and Holland, and illustrated reports of the exhibitions were widespread, appearing also in the American press. In 1913 Severim held a personal exhibition in London, and Boccioni, having published a revolutionary manifesto of Futurist sculpture in April 1912, showed his startling and original sculpture in Paris.

The poets kept pace with the painters and there was much crossstimulation. In 1912 Marinetti published his theory of "free word" poetry, in which evocative words printed in varying type faces and sizes, linked by mathematical signs rather than grammatical connectives, were scattered dramatically over the page. The painters drew upon this idea and began to use words in their paintings, not, as in Cubism, for their forms, but as evocations of sounds and extra pictorial associations.

Manifestoes were published also for music, first in July 1912 by Ballila Pratella, and Russolo devoted much of his time to experiments with music created by a battery of noise machines. He issued a manifesto, "The Art of Noises," in March 1913. A group experimented also with photography and moving pictures. Anton Giulio Bragaglia published a manifesto, "Fotodinamica Futurista," in Rome in 1912, and in September 19 16 launched his "Manifesto of Futurist Cinema" and produced a full length Futurist film, Perfido Incanto. Theatrical performances also were staged which foreshadowed in their shock and compulsive nonsense the later activity of the Dadaists.

The young architect Antonio Sant'Elia joined forces with the Futurists in 194 and republished his stirring proposals for a modem architecture, first used in an exhibition catalogue of that year, as a manifesto of Futurist architecture. His extraordinary designs, as well as his revolutionary manifesto, remained as inspiration for young architects. He himself was killed in the war in 1916.

The Futurist principle of "dynamism" as an expressive means, the painters' emphasis on process rather than on things (for which they cited the teachings of Henri Bergson as authority), and their emphasis upon the intuition and its power to synthesize the manifold experiences of sense and memory in a coherent "simultaneity," had profound effects on other movements: the Constructivists and their various branches, the English Vorticists, and subsequently on Dada and Surrealism.

By the end Of 1914, the first phase of Futurism was drawing to a close; many of the original adherents were becoming critical of each other and of the constant pressure of Marinetti. With Italy's entry into the war in 1915, an event ardently promoted by Marinetti and his fellows, all effective artistic activity ceased. Both Boccioni and Sant'Elia were killed during the war, and Russolo was badly wounded. The group calling itself Futurist which formed around Marinetti after the war had little in common, either in artistic principles or in the quality of their achievement, with the original movement. Its vigorous tactics of propaganda, however, were esteemed by the new political leadership and the new Futurism became identified with Fascism.

- From Theories of Modern Art




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