“We affirm that the beauty of the world has been enriched by a new form of beauty: the beauty of speed.” 1 With these words, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti dispatched the Futurist movement in his 1909 “Founding and Manifesto of Futurism.” This was a pivotal moment. Dramatic technological changes—including the proliferation of trains and trams, the mass production of automobiles, and, in later years, the growth of aviation—would significantly alter man’s sense of himself and his surroundings and secure the primacy of the machine. The excitement new technology generated would also lead to psychic upheaval as humanity’s sense of space and time was transformed by the collapse of distance. Geography, cityscapes, the pace of everyday life, and the spread of information would all radically evolve to meet the demands that accompanied these modern developments.
The Futurists eagerly promoted this new idolatry of speed in various artistic forms as a means of exploring the ways this rapid development in technology, increased movement, and access to information changed the outside world, and as a method of contending with the internal, psychological effects of the shifted sense of the individual within modernity.
Umberto Boccioni examined both the social and mental impact of travel and captured rapid movement and multiple events in his triptych States of Mind (1911). The depicted scene, occurring in a train station, reveals the glory and also the melancholy of a train voyage. The turmoil of departure mingles with the excitement intrinsic to the transitory nature of the locomotive, paralleling man’s sociological journey. “Indeed, all things move,” Boccioni said. “All things run. All things are rapidly changing. Every train carries away the nostalgias that lurk in the souls of those who are watching.” 2
In contrast, his teacher, Giacomo Balla, distilled the experience of speed in Abstract Speed + Sound (1913–14). Here he uses abstracted lines of force in red to show movement as well as to evoke sound, while the altered landscape appears in green and blue. In works such as this, he explores the very nature of speed, prioritizing synesthetic elements over the vehicles themselves. Balla’s depictions were informed by current scientific advances, such as those proposed by Henri Bergson, as well as theosophical philosophies. After World War I, Ivo Pannaggi, coauthor of the “Manifesto of Futurist Mechanical Art” (“Manifesto dell’Arte Meccanica Futurista,”1922), would also embrace Marinetti’s unbridled love of the machine in Speeding Train (1922), where the angular metallic structure penetrates the rural dissolved landscape along Pannaggi’s native Adriatic coast to indicate technology’s mastery over the natural environment. A similar fascination with speed is also evident in Benedetta’s Speeding Motorboat (1923–24), where a vessel, already off in the distance, has swiftly sliced through the water, leaving behind a trail of geometric, sun-soaked, rippling waves. In these and other works, depictions of speed became more stylized and streamlined as the Futurists increasingly borrowed imagery from aerodynamic shapes and forms.
These interpretations of speed would be more than representative of a revolutionary contemporary experience; they would become modern symbols of transcendence: “Time and Space died yesterday. We already live in the absolute, for we have already created velocity which is eternal and omnipresent.” 3
To learn more about the “Manifesto of Futurist Mechanical Art,” join us May 7 at the Guggenheim Museum for a lecture given by Christine Poggi, Professor of the History of Art, University of Pennsylvania.
- F. T. Marinetti, “Fondazione e Manifesto del Futurismo (Pubblicato da Le Figaro di Parigi il 20 febbraio 1909),” (Milan: Via Senato 2, ), trans. in Futurism: An Anthology, ed. Lawrence Rainey, Christine Poggi, and Laura Wittman (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2009), pp. 51–52. ↩
- Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, Luigi Russolo, Giacomo Balla, and Gino Severini, “La pittura futurista: Manifesto tecnico” (Milan: Uffici di Poesia, Apr. 11, 1910), trans. in Rainey et al., Futurism, p. 64. ↩
- Marinetti, “Fondazione e Manifesto del Futurismo,” trans. in Rainey et al., Futurism, p. 51. ↩