Italian Futurism 1909-1944

Italy was a relatively new country at the beginning of the twentieth century. It was barely 30 years old – the industrial north and traditional farming communities in the south had little in common. This was the Italy Benito Mussolini grew up in. It was also where the avant-garde Futurist movement was born.

The Italian Futurists worshiped modernity. They admired industry, speed, technology, planes and automobiles. ‘We declare that the splendour of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed,’ wrote their founder the poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in the 1909 Futurist manifesto. ‘A racing automobile with its bonnet adorned with great tubes like serpents with explosive breath … a roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire…’

Tullio Crali Before the Parachute Opens 1939. Casa Cavazzini, Museo d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Udine, Italy. Photo credit Claudio MarconCarlo-Carra-Interventionist-Demonstration-1914-©2013-Artists-Rights-Society-New-York-SIAE-Rome.-Photo-Courtesy-Solomon-R.-Guggenheim-Foundation-New-York.Italian Futurism, 1909-1944: Reconstructing the Universe at the Guggenheim Museum in New York attempts to examine the full historical breadth of the movement often lost in the dominance of Marinetti and some of the more famous members as well as its later association with the Fascist Italy of Mussolini.

Putting this association to one side, the Futurists were on the whole pretty avant-garde. The Futurist Cookbook, for instance (which I happen to be reading for a book I’m working on called The Life Negroni), published in 1931 is a provocative book, and part artistic joke, that calls for the abolition of pasta deemed an absurd Italian gastronomic religion that induces ‘lethargy, pessimism, and nostalgia’. They believed modern science would allow us to replace food with pills and vitamins, that eventually food production would be totally mechanised.

The Guggenheim exhibition features over 360 works by 80 artists, architects, designers, photographers and writers from the movement’s 1909 inception through its demise at the end of the second world war. It includes many rarely seen works, some of which have never travelled outside of Italy.

It also examines advertising (again this is something I’ve come across in my research for the book as the Futurists contributed some stunning brand work for Campari… more on this later), architecture, ceramics, design, fashion, film, free-form poetry, photography, performance, publications, music and theatre of this dynamic and often contentious movement that championed modernity and insurgency.

Nargess Banks

Italian Futurism, 1909-1944: Reconstructing the Universe is at the Guggenheim Museum, New York until 1 September 2014

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