Unique Forms of Continuity in Space by Umberto Boccioni. 1913. (Photo: Wikipedia)
Fascinated by new industry and thrilled by what laid ahead, the early 20th-century Futurists carved out a place in history. Growing out of Italy, these artists worked as painters, sculptors, graphic designers, musicians, architects, and industrial designers. Together, they helped shape a new, modern style of art that still has staying power today.
The Futurists were revolutionaries, members of an avant-garde movement that sought to free itself from the artistic norms of the past. Through frequent, well-laid-out manifestos, they were able to spread their ideas widely and enjoyed great success prior to World War I. This group firmly looked forward and couldnt get enough of what they saw. For the Futurists, the past was something to look down on. Airplanes and automobiles symbolized the speed they craved and the dynamism with which they saw the world.
Today, the Futurist movement is known for its embracing of speed, violence, and youth culture in an attempt to move culture forward. Though the movement is probably most widely associated with Umberto Boccionis sculpture Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, theres a lot more to explore.
Italian futurists Luigi Russolo, Carlo Carr, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Umberto Boccioni and Gino Severini in front of Le Figaro, Paris, February 9, 1912 (Photo: Wikipedia)
Futurism was founded in Milan by the Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. He published his Manifesto of Futurism in 1909, first in the La gazzetta dellEmilia and then in Frances daily newspaper Le Figaro.
This initial manifesto laid out the Futurists disdain for the past, stating We want no part of it, the past, we the young and strong Futurists! In the text, its also clear that Marinetti wishes to reestablish Italy as a new cultural center. Italy, which was only unified in 1870, was still basking in the glory of the ancient Roman Empire and the Italian Renaissance. For the Futurists, this wasnt enough.
In fact, Marinetti was through with the past, writing, We will free Italy from her innumerable museums which cover her like countless cemeteries. Futurists saw much more beauty in the great industrial discoveries of the 20th century than classical painting and sculpture. In the manifesto, they outright state that modern industrial inventions are much more appealing: We declarea new beauty, the beauty of speed. A racing motor caris more beautiful than theVictory of Samothrace.
The manifesto also promoted violence and the necessity of war, but interestingly did not discuss or outline any rules for the visual arts. That would come later, with the 1914 Technical Manifesto for Futurist Painting. It was just one of many manifestos that they would produce, as the Futurists wrote about all sorts of topics, from architecture and religion to clothing.
Surrounding Marinetti during this early stage was a core group of artists that would shape Futurism and, particularly, the visual arts. Composer Luigi Russolo, as well as painters Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carr, Giacomo Balla, and Gino Severini formed the original Futurists.
Dynamism of a Cyclist by Umberto Boccioni. 1913. (Photo: Wikipedia)
As the early manifesto did not directly address the artistic output of Futurism, it took some time before there was a cohesive visual. A hallmark of Futurist art is the depiction of speed and movement.
In particular, they adhered to principals of universal dynamism, which meant that no single object is separate from its background or another object. The sixteen people around you in a rolling motor bus are in turn and at the same time one, ten four three; they are motionless and they change places. The motor bus rushes into the houses which it passes, and in their turn the houses throw themselves upon the motor bus and are blended with it.
This is best exemplified in Giacomo Ballas Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash, where the motion of walking the dog is shown through the multiplying of the dogs feet, leash, and owners legs. Urban scenes such as this were typical subject matter for the Futurists, who saw the city environment as the apex of their ideals.
Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash by Giacomo Balla. 1912. (Photo: Wikipedia)
Umberto Boccioni explained the principals of Futurist art by distinguishing it from another avant-garde movementImpressionism. While the impressionists paint a picture to give one particular moment and subordinate the life of the picture to its resemblance to this moment, we synthesize every moment (time, place, form, color-tone) and thus paint the picture.
The Futurists were also highly influenced by Cubism, which was first brought to the group by Gino Severini. Severini came into contact with the style while visiting Paris in 1911 and introduced its use of broken color fields and short brushstrokes to the Futurists. The core artists used these techniques to create even more dynamic scenes of everything from cyclists to dancers to cities under construction.
Eventually, Boccioni took his work from two dimensions to three dimensions and created the acclaimed sculpture Unique Forms of Continuity in Space. Aerodynamic and fluid, its emblematic of the painters new obsession with sculpture and its ability to suggest motion. Interestingly, the sculpture was never cast in bronze during Boccionis lifetime. His original plaster cast is located in So Paulos contemporary art museum. Several bronze casts were made beginning in 1931, with one of the original casts acquired by New Yorks MoMA.
Dynamic Hieroglyphic of the Bal Tabarin by Gino Severini. 1912. (Photo: Wikipedia)
Brooklyn Bridge by Joseph Stella. 1919-1920. (Photo: Wikipedia)
The beginning of World War I signaled the end of the original Futurist group. Boccioni created only one painting during the war and was drafted into the Italian army. It was a huge blow for the group when he was killed in 1916 during a training exercise.
After the end of the war, Marinetti revived the movement. This period was later called Second Futurism which became associated with Fascism. Similar to many Fascists, they felt that Italy was a country divided between the industrialized north and agricultural south and wished to build a bridge to bring them together. Marinettis Futurist Political Party was actually absorbed into Benito Mussolinis Fascist Party, though Marinetti would later disagree with some of their principals and withdraw from political life.
Post-World War I Futurism was dedicated to new types of expression. In particular, Aeropainting became a popular style in the 1920s. It combined the love for flight with aerial landscapes and was often used in propaganda. Not limited to landscapes, Aeropainting was actually varied in its subject matter and remained popular until 1940.
After the defeat of Mussolini and Marinettis death in 1944, Futurism as a formal movement was dead. However, it remained highly influential for subsequent 20th-century art movements like Dada, Surrealism, andin terms of designArt Deco.
Today, works by Futurist artists can be found in major collections around the world and are essential to understanding early 20th-century culture.
Speeding Motorboat by Benedetta Cappa. 1923. (Photo: WikiArt)
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What is Futurism? Italy's Art Movement that Love Speed and Technology - My Modern Met
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