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Bringing Futurism’s Intricacies to the Page

Italian Futurism, 1909–1944: Reconstructing the Universe (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2014), front cover © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Tullio Crali, Before the Parachute Opens (Prima che si apra il paracadute), 1939. Oil on panel, 141 × 151 cm. Casa Cavazzini, Museo d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Udine, Italy © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome. Photo: Claudio Marcon, Udine, Civici Musei e Gallerie di Storia e Arte

Italian Futurism, 1909–1944: Reconstructing the Universe (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2014), front cover © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Tullio Crali, Before the Parachute Opens (Prima che si apra il paracadute), 1939. Oil on panel, 141 × 151 cm. Casa Cavazzini, Museo d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Udine, Italy © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome. Photo: Claudio Marcon, Udine, Civici Musei e Gallerie di Storia e Arte

Italian Futurism, 1909–1944: Reconstructing the Universe (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2014), back cover © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Francesco Cangiullo, Large Crowd in the Piazza del Popolo (Grande folla in Piazza del Popolo), 1914. Watercolor, gouache, and pencil on paper, 58 × 74 cm. Private collection © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome

Italian Futurism, 1909–1944: Reconstructing the Universe (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2014), back cover © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Francesco Cangiullo, Large Crowd in the Piazza del Popolo (Grande folla in Piazza del Popolo), 1914. Watercolor, gouache, and pencil on paper, 58 × 74 cm. Private collection © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome

Italian Futurism, 1909–1944: Reconstructing the Universe (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2014), pp. 114–15 © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Left: Giacomo Balla, Mercury Passing Before the Sun (Mercurio transita davanti al sole), 1914. Tempera on paper with canvas, 120 × 100 cm. Gianni Mattioli Collection, on long-term loan to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome. Right: Gino Severini, Spherical Expansion of Light (Centripetal and Centrifugal) (Expansion sphérique de la lumière [Centripède et centrifuge]), ca. 1914. Oil on canvas, 60 × 50 cm. Museum Purchase, Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, Utica, New © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Photo: © Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute/Art Resource, New York York

Italian Futurism, 1909–1944: Reconstructing the Universe (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2014), pp. 114–15 © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Left: Giacomo Balla, Mercury Passing Before the Sun (Mercurio transita davanti al sole), 1914. Tempera on paper with canvas, 120 × 100 cm. Gianni Mattioli Collection, on long-term loan to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome. Right: Gino Severini, Spherical Expansion of Light (Centripetal and Centrifugal) (Expansion sphérique de la lumière [Centripède et centrifuge]), ca. 1914. Oil on canvas, 60 × 50 cm. Museum Purchase, Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, Utica, New York © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Photo: © Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute/Art Resource, New York

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.

Look over our timeline for the Italian Futurist movement. What is one event that you feel was pivotal, and why? Add your response in the comments below, and you’ll be eligible to win a free copy of the exhibition catalogue.

  • Richard Tutching

    The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism” in Paris’s Le Figaro. If not for this start, nothing would have occurred! It set the basis for the post world war II Renaissance of Italian modern Mid Century Design!

  • ashley johnson

    Feburary 1912 when the exhibit traveled all over. This gave many an exposure to an art form not seen before and I’m sure inspired many future artists.

  • PersonalGenius

    Between September 1914, and May 1915, is when the Futurists were successful in pressuring Italy to enter WWI. It shows the power of art as part of social movements – how the visual can be used to inspire and motivate people, for better or for worse. We see these themes time & time age. Art is inseparably linked to our history. Artists may not always get their name in history, but they illustrate it as it’s happening, and create the documents from which we’ll draw from for generations.

  • Tiffany

    I believe Picasso’s Guernica piece is pivotal to the events and time that took place during the Italian Futurist Movement. He was honest with showing his life experiences including that of war, in a time where technology, inventions, and historic events took place. His art mostly known for cubism, in this piece delivered a visual context of expressing the impacts of war using limited palette.

    • Rachel Barth

      I think that Guernica certainly has a relationship to Futurism, but it was done in 1937, when the Futurist movement was nearly over

  • Rachel Barth

    I think the 1909 founding manifesto was extremely pivotal. This established an important paradigm for all modern avant-garde art movements to follow. It became the principal way for these movements to disseminate their theories and beliefs to the public, craft a particular public image, and convey their ideological stances. For the Futurists, the manifesto was a polemical tool that they used in a journalistic fashion, responding to current events and trends in the arts, to present their theories and defend and promote their work on an international stage. In the founding manifesto, they presented themselves as a group of militant, aggressive young artists intent on destroying the past academic traditions and establishing a new identity for Italy and Italian art in the modern age. I also find photodynamism pivotal, but I do think that the manifesto as a form created in the service of modern movements was a more far-reaching innovation with more immediate effects.

  • Brent Reidy

    I think Russolo’s The Art of Noises is pivotal — it served as a starting point for so many musicians then and many more to follow years later and abroad. John Cage seemed particularly inspired by it as did scores of famous composers throughout the century, especially those exploring electronic music who used his book to create a historical arc to their radically new technological practice. It’s hard to underestimate the effect this text had on 20th century music.

  • Sean Riley

    Marinetti’s manifesto kicked the whole thing off! come on!

  • ariklick

    Giacomo Balla’s 1914 release of the Antineutralist Suit: A Futurist Manifesto is a fantastic distillation of Futurist ethos and modus operandi and an example one of their most outlandish, yet still attainable, interventions into every-day life (save Marinetti’s 1930 Manifesto of Futurist Cooking.)
    Costumed demonstrations in the piazza evoke the political, incite war and engage with the Italian public in a gesture that crosses the boundary towards the applied art that was previously the domain of women (Sonia Delunay’s Orphic dresses, for instance.) The call for clothing that was simple and bold resonate with the applied arts projects of later modernist movements and sensationalist, attention-seeking outfits with political spectacle and interventions that we still see today.
    A lot happens when you don a nationalist outfit!

  • cathy martha w.

    The publication of Marinetti’s “War, the Only Hygiene of the World” in August 1911 presages so much of the bombast of politics and culture over the next five decades (with lasting implications for the present day). A direct chain of events links it to Italy’s invasion of Libya, and Italian involvement in both World Wars (with the Allies in WWI and with Hitler’s Axis in WWII) – not to mention the strained but intimate relationship that Marinetti shared with Mussolini. Marinetti’s agitation for violence, revolution, and dynamism is manifestly present in Futurist art (directly so in the case of Italian Futurism, but still present in other European Futurist movements that did not subscribe to Marinetti’s right-wing fervor). But this violence, this thirsting for new systems, new nationalisms, encompasses the culture, politics, and history of the entire globe from 1911 onwards. The striking implications of Marinetti’s hubristic expression – “the only hygiene” – does not need to be further teased out beyond gesturing towards Hitler’s “showers.” Marinetti’s 1911 proclamation is, therefore — to me — the definition of a “pivotal” event.

  • nametaken

    TGIF

  • Jessica Alleven

    Boccioni’s manifesto on sculpture’s role in the futurist movement as well as his work Unique Forms and Continuity in Space was pivotal. The work can be viewed as the progression of man towards the future and Boccioni’s attempt at capturing movement is intriguing.

  • Simone Bertolini

    I feel that the leaving for the front, in summer 1915, of the futurists Marinetti, Boccioni, San’Elia, Russolo, Mario Sironi and Achille Funi was the event most pivotal. The Futurism became definitively an artistic movement of action. The war – the only hygiene of the world – became real and allowed to “purify” the futurists’ souls. October 23, 1915 the futurists took part in the decisive battle for the taking of Dosso Casina, an important outpost near Mount Altissimo. After this victory, the Futurists had to confront themselves with the atrocities of war and the deaths of some of them (Antonio Sant ‘Elia, Carlo Erba, Umberto Boccioni). The result was a general downsizing of a movement that, at that time, had touched its highest point. Futurism became one of the answers, not the only one, to a “need for change” that materialized itself in fascism.

  • Annabel Keenan

    I view October 1917 as a pivotal moment in Italian Futurism as it demonstrated the unavoidability of participating in WWI. Despite Italy’s desires to remain neutral, they lost Veneto and had no choice but to rally together and win back their land. As the timeline text reads: “October, 1917: Italy loses the Veneto territory to the Germans and Austriand in the disastrous battle of Caporetto; nationalists rally to save Italy from collapse; divisions deepen between supporters of the war and those looking for a quick peace.” Ultimately, while many people wanted to avoid war, the circumstances of the early 20th century were such that no country was exempt. Futurism sought to make tangible the conceptual fears and apprehensions many felt towards pre-, during, and post-war politics. This moment in October marked a point where the messages disseminated through Futurist works suddenly became a reality.

  • Andrea Levinsky

    I think on February 20, 1909 when Marinetti publishes “The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism” in Paris’s Le Figaro is very important because it made the movement official, let the public know about it, and served as the starting point for the entire movement. I saw the exhibition today and it was wonderful! I want to use information from it in my classroom!

  • S Ingall

    Anton Giulio Bragaglia and Arturo Bragaglia devisefotodinamismo (photodynamism), which seeks to represent movement and action in photography, and the “interior essence” of the represented object. The modern world begins.

  • Peter McCartt

    Wonderful exhibition – thank you!
    February 20, 1909 when Marinetti published “The Founding and Manifesto
    of Futurism” was the pivotal moment. It established the
    movement, laid out the parameters and brought the artworld outside of the movement as well as the general public in on Italian Futurism.

  • Claire Kelley

    I’m particularly interested in the misogyny in the Futurist
    movement and women’s different responses to it – for example, Valentine de
    Saint-Point’s “Manifesto of the Futurist Woman: Response to F.T. Marinetti” or
    Mina Loy’s “Feminist Manifesto.”

    I also think Marinetti’s “Variety Theatre” must have been
    incredible to see — with films, acrobats, singers, dancers, and the most
    absurd performances they could think of!

    Finally, the books made by the Futurists are some of my
    favorites because Fortunato Depero’s “Depero Futurista” is kind of a hybrid paper
    book/machine with its bolt binding (a pre-curser to the ereading machines?) and
    Marinetti’s “Manifesto of Futurist Cooking” is totally wild – he gives
    instructions on everything from table settings (don’t use forks and knives!) to
    how to bring out flavors with light and perfume.

  • Cromagnontect

    Lebius Woods futurist architecture in the late twentieth century. Futurist for sure. Architecture as war. His pencil images use of color, space, light, and vector quite literal of a futurist work. Also way more conviction than what would be described as the typical post mid 70s deconstructavist/ late modern architecture.

  • Beth Fowler

    I think that Italy’s entrance into the Great War is the most pivotal event in shaping the Futurist movement. The Futurists dealt with issues of anxiety regarding the future, which most Europeans undoubtedly felt as their nations went to war. Fear of unbridled violence and new technologies abounded of course, but also the sense of uneasiness that the war seemed to signify. Everything would change, a new world would be birthed from this conflict, but no one was sure what this world would look like, or if these changes would be beneficial. Assumptions were being questioned, and people felt like everything they had been taught was now being questioned. These are the questions and anxieties I see when I view many Futurist works.

  • Catherine

    I consider “The Manifesto of Futurist Painters” publication important because it sets the stage for the Futurist message of “destroy past art in order to make way for new kinds of art”. This message resonated so much, other Futurists would repeat this thesis when taking on other art mediums such as dance and fashion.

  • http://tomcritchlow.com Tom Critchlow

    Fascinating exhibition – I can’t wait to see it and think deeply about the impact this movement will have played on my favourite author – Italo Calvino

  • Ian King

    February 1910 was pivotal in that the Futurists chose to take on the venerated establishment ie church against the entrenched norms of the day. If you know the power of that establishment and its rigid devotion to Christian Iconography, this is HUGE. Even today, the art venues of all Italy celebrate the major contributions of the best Christian StoryArtists. To define modernism as unrelated to the opulence of Church passages but related instead to the passages of everyday people would have been an enormous affront to the powers of the day.

  • Gwendolen Webster

    I would choose February 1912, as this marked the opening of the Futurist exhibition that subsequently went on tour around Europe. Hugo Ball was overwhelmed when he saw it in Dresden in 1913, and after 1916, he fed many of the Futurists’ ideas into the Cabaret Voltaire and the Dada movement. Dada, however, remained independent and discarded the ill-omened political aspects of Futurism, and after 1945, it was the Dada movement that had a huge impact on some of our greatest artists and musicians. Possibly Dada would never have arisen without that Futurist kick, but thanks to Dada, we have inherited the many positive facets of Futurism and not its menacing side.

  • Nicole Blessing

    I feel that a pivotal moment is “Valentine de Saint-Point releases the “Manifesto of the Futurist Woman: Response to F. T. Marinetti” in Paris and rejects Marinetti’s division of humanity into “superior” men and “inferior” women; she insists humanity is characterized by a mixture of masculine and feminine, and that, as such, Futurism’s claim that Italy needs more masculinity, more virility, to renew itself after years of degeneration, is correct.”
    From its beginning Futurism held a strong attraction for women anxious to escape traditional roles, an interest that further increased during WWI as rapid social changes imposed created new opportunities and expectations for women. Marinetti gave careful attention in his postwar political writings to the emancipation of women. This probably reflected the gains women had made in general in Italian society, and in the Futurist movement.

    Marinetti never felt bound to a politics of realism. His postwar political writings were not the first place he had expressed the view that women ought to be granted the same social and political rights and opportunities as men. Marinetti’s notorious scorn for women in his founding manifesto has tended to obscure the enthusiasm many women felt for Futurism, but also the nature of his scorn.

  • Caitlin Dover

    Thank you all for your thoughtful responses! It’s now 5 pm in New York, which means our giveaway period has ended. The winner of our Italian Futurism catalogue has been contacted via e-mail.