The catalogue that accompanies the Guggenheim’s exhibition Italian Futurism, 1909-1944: Reconstructing the Universe seeks to capture Futurism’s vitality—complexities, paradoxes, and all. Overseen with a judicious and keen eye by the exhibition’s curator, Vivien Greene, and crisply organized by the book designer, Eileen Boxer, the 352-page catalogue provides an in-depth look at the intricacies that make up this influential, but often undervalued, avant-garde. Even the carefully selected front- and back-cover images (see above and right) announce the geographic diversity and chronological span of Futurism: Tullio Crali, whose work appears on the front cover, was an artist known for his aeropittura (aerial painting), based primarily in Gorizia, in the north of Italy, and most active in the 1930s; Francesco Cangiullo (whose work is on the back cover) was a first-generation Futurist from Naples who composed innovative parole in libertà (words-in-freedom) poetry.
Just as the exhibition is the first in the United States to cover the full breadth of this significant movement, the catalogue serves as one of the only comprehensive resources on Italian Futurism in the English language. It functions as a textbook for newcomers to Futurism and as a reader for those familiar with the movement, providing both an introductory overview and closer investigations of particular artists, artworks, exchanges, and moments in time. Illustrating many of the more than 360 exhibition objects, the catalogue also includes an extensive bibliography of pivotal scholarship, more recent publications, and key English language texts.
Started as a literary movement by F. T. Marinetti in 1909, Futurism quickly expanded to embrace the visual arts, music, theater, advertising, and politics, and extended to every region of Italy. Rather than focusing on one artist or one aspect of this avant-garde, the catalogue serves as a micro-history, drawing inspiration from the methodological structure used by historian Carlo Ginzburg. Three longer texts—by Claudia Salaris, Enrico Crispolti, and Adrian Lyttelton, respectively—examine the art history, historiography, and sociopolitical history of the movement. Having thus familiarized the reader with Futurism’s larger issues, the micro-history approach is then applied with twenty-six shorter essays. Called “interventions,” from the Italian term intervento, which can mean a contribution or an intrusion, as a nod to the Futurists’ intrusive nature, these essays address specific aspects of the movement. Written by an international group of scholars (a full list of the catalogue’s authors can be found here) these shorter texts highlight particular artists, historical moments, and bodies of work, such as an essay on Futurist dance and one on the artist Ivo Pannaggi and the development of arte meccanica (mechanical art).
Many of the catalogue authors were part of the eminent international advisory committee that was assembled to provide guidance and expertise in the exhibition’s planning. In the early phase of their involvement, this group of critics, curators, independent art historians, museum directors, and professors of architecture, art history, gender studies, history, Italian language, literature, and photography, convened in an online forum. For this forum, Greene posed 15 pertinent questions to address various matters surrounding the conception and implementation of such a large and all-encompassing exhibition. These questions ranged from when the exhibition concluding date should be (1939, with the onset of the war, or 1944, with the war’s end in Italy and the death of Marinetti?) to how the ephemeral aspects of the movement’s history (performances, for instance) should be evoked, as they are among Futurism’s most important contributions as a historical avant-garde.
The forum lasted over a month, during which time advisory-committee members debated these issues in Italian and English. The crucial dialogue that ensued in this space is directly reflected in the exhibition’s checklist, structure, and design, and in the exhibition’s catalogue—all evidence of the scholarly and interdisciplinary collaboration that helped make them possible.