Futurism - History and Concepts
Beginnings of Futurism
Futurism began its transformation of Italian culture in February 1909, with the publication of the Futurist Manifesto, authored by the poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. Although initially printed in La gazzetta dell'Emilia in Italy, it was reproduced a couple of weeks later on the front page of Le Figaro, which was then the largest circulation newspaper in France. The manifesto called for the glorification of progress, industry, and mechanization and the removal of old ideas and institutions. This was the first of many manifestos that the group published. Marinetti's ideas drew the support of artists including Umberto Boccioni, Giacomo Balla, Gino Severini, and Carlo Carrà, who believed that they could be translated into a modern, figurative art which explored properties of space and motion. The group was initially based in Milan, but the movement quickly spread to Turin and Naples, and over subsequent years Marinetti vigorously promoted it abroad.
While Marinetti was Futurism's leading writer, theoretician, and promoter, Umberto Boccioni was the artistic leader. In 1910, along with Balla, Carrà, Severini, and Luigi Russolo, he wrote the Manifesto of Futurist Painters, stating their desire to "fight with all our might the fanatical, senseless and snobbish religion of the past" and to "elevate all attempts at originality, however daring, however violent...[to] support and glory in our day-to-day world, a world which is going to be continually and splendidly transformed by victorious Science." The Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting (1910) followed, which rejected "bituminous tints", "linear technique", and the subject of the nude, in favor of "painting as a dynamic sensation".
In 1911 the group first showed their work publicly, in the Esposizione di Mostra d'Arte Libera (Exhibition of Free Art) in Milan. Not only did they want to promote the new movement, but were also motivated by a desire to raise money for the Casa di Lavoro (House of Work) that supported the city's poor and unemployed. The exhibition extended an invitation to submit work to "all those who want to assert something new, that is to stay far from imitations, derivations and falsifications". Many of the paintings displayed featured threadlike brushstrokes and the use of bright colors. Images depicted space as fragmented and fractured and subjects focused on technology, speed, and violence. Among the paintings was Boccioni's The City Rises (1910), exhibited under its original title Il lavoro (Work), a picture that can claim to be the first Futurist painting by virtue of its advanced, Cubist-influenced style. Public reaction was mixed. French critics from literary and artistic circles expressed hostility, while many praised the innovative content.
Influences on Futurism
The Italian group was slow to develop a distinct style. In the years prior to the emergence of the movement, its members had worked using an eclectic range of methods inspired by Post-Impressionism, and they continued to do so. Whilst studying in Rome in 1901, Severini and Boccioni visited Balla's studio where he introduced them to Divisionism. Developed from the color theory and Pointillism of Georges Seurat, in Divisionism the image was separated into stippled dots and stripes of pure color and these interacted optically to create the finished work. The use of bold color became very important to the Futurists, as art critic Henry Adam notes, the artists "in keeping with their Post-Impressionist antecedents, employed brilliant, electrifying, prismatic colors".
It was Cubism, however, that had the greatest impact on Futurist art, even though the Futurists felt it was too static in its treatment and subject. In 1911 a number of Futurists traveled to Paris, where Severini introduced Boccioni, Carrà, and Russolo to the city's leading artists, including Picasso and Braque. As a result of this encounter, the Futurists began to incorporate fractured planes into their work. Boccioni revised the three paintings of his States of Mind series (1911) and Carrà incorporated fracturing into Funeral of the Anarchist Galli (1910-11).
Futurism came to wider public attention in 1912 with the First Exhibition of Futurist Painting at the Bernheim-Jeune gallery in Paris at which the group displayed a number of these early works. As art historian Lawrence Raney records, the style "prompted discussion that extended through every level of metropolitan culture, from elite literary reviews to mass circulation newspapers, in France, England, Germany, and Russia". The exhibition subsequently went on tour, traveling to London, Berlin, and Brussels.
The years 1913-14 were marked by an expansion of Futurism into sculpture, architecture, and music. In 1913, Boccioni used sculpture to further articulate Futurist dynamism with his work Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913) with sought to present vigorous action as well as ideas of the mechanized body. Luigi Russolo shifted from painting to creating musical instruments, and later wrote the manifesto The Art of Noises (1913). In 1914, the innovative Antonio Sant'Elia became the first architect to join the movement and Marinetti published the Futurist poem Zang Tumb Tuuum: Adrianople October (1914) the same year.
Despite all of this activity, the group had begun to diverge and fracture, signaling its end as a unified movement. Though World War I broke out in 1914, Italy remained neutral until 1915. In the interval, the focus turned from art to war, as Marinetti, Boccioni, and other Futurists used their events and performances to inflame crowds to anti-Austrian sentiment and issue passionate calls to intervention.
Concepts and Mediums
Futurist artists sought to create works that captured movement, or dynamism, as a way of representing the frenetic motion of modern life. This association between speed and modernity is reinforced by the Manifesto of Futurist Painters (1910) which notes that artists "must breathe in the tangible miracles of contemporary life - the iron network of speedy communications which envelops the earth, the transatlantic liners, the dreadnoughts, those marvelous flights which furrow our skies, the profound courage of our submarine navigators and the spasmodic struggle to conquer the unknown. How can we remain insensible to the frenetic life of our great cities...?"
Dynamism was usually depicted through fracturing of the image, energetic brushstrokes, compositional turbulence, and receding or emerging forms. Accordingly, Futurist art often focused on subjects that both moved rapidly and incorporated modern technology, from cars such as Russolo's Dynamism of an Automobile (1912-13) to cyclists as seen in Boccioni's Dynamism of a Cyclist (1913).
In the first Futurist Manifesto, Marinetti wrote, "We want to glorify war - the only cure for the world - militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill". This reactionary statement followed from his belief that Europe and Italy's past should be violently swept away to make room for new ideas. He also saw modern technology as an instrument of war, writing, "a roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace."
Consequently, the depictions of dynamism developed in the pre-war years were readily applied to the conflict. As art historian Selena Daly writes, when World War I began, the Futurists "were terribly excited by the bombardments. They found this to be an inspiration also for their art and in very many ways putting into practice what they had preached". War and violence became a focus for their work as they followed Marinetti's advice to "try to live the war pictorially, studying it in all its forms". Works from this period include Severini's The Armored Train (1915) and Boccioni's Charge of the Lancers (1916). There are, however, fewer Futurist canvases from the First World War than might be expected and this is because many of the group joined the army as volunteers with Boccioni, along with Russolo, Sant'Elia, and Marinetti, serving in the Battalion of Volunteer Cyclists, focusing their attention on fighting rather than painting.
Photography and Film
The Futurist fascination with movement led to their interest in photography. Influenced by the motion studies of Eadweard Muybridge and Etienne-Jules Marey, the three Bragaglia brothers invented what they called photodynamism, photographs that showed a figure in motion from right to left with sections blurred to demonstrate movement. This is seen in Anton Giulio Bragaglia's Waving (1911). Balla was particularly enthusiastic about the technology, and some of his paintings evoke these photographs, with objects blurred by movement. This technique is reflected in the Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting, which noted that "On account of the persistency of an image upon the retina, moving objects constantly multiply themselves; their form changes like rapid vibrations in their mad career. Thus a running horse has not four legs, but twenty, and their movements are triangular". Rather than perceiving an action as a performance of a single limb, Futurists viewed action as the convergence in time and space of multiple extremities.
The Bragaglia brothers were removed from the Futurists in 1913, primarily due to their promotion of photodynamism as an independent movement, although both brothers continued to work in a similar style from outside the official group. As a result of the explusion, Futurism ignored photography until the 1930s when a new generation of photographers emerged, emphasizing photomontage and multilayered negatives. The most prominent of these, Tato (Guglielmo Sansoni) wrote the Futurist Photography: Manifesto (1930) in conjunction with Marinetti. This suggested that "photographic science" should invade "pure art" and theoretically associated it with Fascism.
The Futurist obsession with movement made film an ideal medium for experimentation as well as fulfilling the group's criteria in terms of exploring new technology. The Futurists made a handful of films between 1916 and 1919, but unfortunately only Thais, filmed in 1916 by Anton Giulio Bragaglia, survives. Despite telling a conventional story of the period, the Futurist influence can be seen in the heavily stylized aesthetic and inclusion of significant abstract elements. The film sets, designed by Enrico Prampolini, utilized strong black and white geometric shapes as well as including symbolic elements and their appearance influenced the cinematic style of German Expressionism.
Futurism was a leading avant-garde movement in poetry and literature, as Marinetti explored new modes of literary expression, developing poetry that he called parole in libertà, or "words in freedom". Parole in libertà works eliminated punctuation, syntax, and adjectives, used only the infinitive form of verbs, and incorporated symbols. Marinetti put these ideas into practice in Zang Tumb Tuuum: Adrianople October (1914), an account of the pre-World War I Battle of Adrianople, which he covered as a journalist. As scholars Caroline Tisdall and Angelo Bozzola explain, "as an extended sound poem it stands as one of the monuments of experimental literature, its telegraphic barrage of nouns, colors, exclamations and directions pouring out in the screeching of trains, the rat-a-tat-tat of gunfire, and the clatter of telegraphic messages". The poem also influenced graphic design, as Tisdall and Bozzola note, "through the revolutionary use of different typefaces, forms and graphic arrangements and sizes." Following on from Marinetti's work, Balla created phonovisual constructions and, later, Fortunato Depero created onomalingua, an abstract language of sounds.
Czech artist Růžena Zátková, lived in Rome for a decade and studied with Balla. Art critic Jan Velinger described her sculpture Pile Driver (1916) "as a piece that captures the frozen rhythm and dynamic of the machine and modern industry". She became primarily known, however, as a pioneer of Kinetic Art, connected to the Russian avant-garde. In the United States, Joseph Stella's Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras (1913-14) is considered part of the Futurist canon, but his subsequent works were equally informed by Fauvism's color palette and Cubism's multiple perspectives.
Interest in Futurism began in Japan with awareness of Marinetti's work and the various manifestos published by the group around the First World War. In 1920 Seiji Tōgō, Gyō Fumon, and Tai Kanbara formed The Futurist Art Association and held the first Futurist Art Group Exhibition. Fumon's Deer, Youth, Light, Crossing (1920) is described by contemporary art historian Toshiharu Omuka as "violent use of colors and brush work to express dynamic movement" and this work exemplifies the Japanese treatment. The leaders of Russian Futurism, David Burliuk and Viktor Palmor, visited Japan in 1920 and their impact resulted in Japanese modernism becoming, as Omuka notes, "a curious and complicated amalgamation of Italian and Russian Futurism".
While Italian Futurism has been credited with inspiring Russian Futurism (also known as Cubo-Futurism), the movement, including artists such as Kazimir Malevich, Lyubov Popova, Natalia Goncharova, and David Burliuk, as well as the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky vehemently rejected this notion. Originating in the literary group Hylaea, Russian Futurism was less visual and more literary-based than their Italian counterparts and text and typography featured heavily in much of their work. The group was active between approximately 1912 and 1916. Whilst Russian Futurism developed its own styles and ideas, emphasizing a return to Russian traditions whilst embracing modernity, it overlapped with Italian Futurism in many ways, particularly its depictions of dynamism and urban life and its celebration of the worker.
To suggest that the Italian movement had no influence on the Russian group is simplistic. Members of the Russian Futurists traveled throughout Europe between 1909 and 1913, with poets Alexander Blok, Valery Bryusov, Andrei Biely, Max Voloshin, and Nikolai Gumilev all visiting Italy during this period. Bryusov, particularly, formed links with Italian Futurism and had poems published by Marinetti. Boccioni also spent time in Russia. As such, Marinetti was eager to claim the Russian movement as a direct descendent of his own, writing that, "There can be no argument that the word Futurism (Futurists, Futuristic) appeared in Russia after my first manifesto was printed in Figaro and reprinted by the most important newspapers throughout the world and of course, by Russian newspapers and journals". This claim caused a conflicted and uneasy relationship to exist between the two groups and when Marinetti made his first trip to Russia in 1914, he was met with hostility and disdain.
Later Developments - After Futurism
Boccioni and Sant'Elia died in the First World War, whilst Carrà suffered a nervous breakdown and, while convalescing in a military hospital, met Giorgio de Chirico, who was also recovering. The two men went on to become active in the Metaphysical School of painting. Severini, who remained in Paris throughout the war, had, by the 1920s, turned toward still life and Interwar Classicism. Following the war, Marinetti formed the Futurist Political Party, allied with Benito Mussolini's Fascist movement. After the party's political defeat, he tried to promote Futurism in other ways but was met with a negative reception as the two movements had become problematically associated. This was compounded by Dada circles using the slogan, "The Futurist is dead. What killed it? Dada".
In the 1920s the movement, though considerably diminished and confined to Italy, attracted new artists including Fortunato Depero, Gerardo Dotori, and Ivo Pannaggi. Contemporary scholars have called this era Second Futurism, and as art critic Roberta Smith notes their work became "more consistent and decorative". In the interwar period, the group created ceramics, toys, posters, advertisements, and set designs. At the same time, Futurist painting became fascinated with the view from airplanes or high-rise buildings, an idea known as Aeropittura (Aeropainting), and this perspective is prevalent throughout later Futurist works.
From around 1912 to 1920, Futurism had a profound influence on artists and art movements. German Expressionists adopted Futurist elements, as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner explored force lines to depict the movement and volatility of crowd scenes and Franz Marc incorporated them in works such as Animal Fate (1913) to lend dynamism to a subjective vision. George Grosz's canvas Explosion (1917) also shows many of the hallmarks of Futurism. In England Futurism had a significant impact on the development of the Vorticist movement, including philosopher T.E. Hulme, poet Ezra Pound and artists Wyndham Lewis, David Bomberg, and Jacob Epstein. In the United States, it influenced the development of modernism, primarily through Joseph Stella's work. Dada is thought to have been affected by Futurist sound poems and performances.
Antonio Sant'Elia's designs pre-empted Art Deco styles and inspired American architects Helmut Jahn and John Portman, as well as filmmakers such as Fritz Lang and Ridley Scott providing the aesthetic for films including Metropolis (1927) and Bladerunner (1982). More recent scholarship has taken a fresh look at Futurism and major exhibitions such as the Guggenheim's Italian Futurism, 1909-1944: Reconstructing the Universe in 2014 both reflect and drive the critical re-evaluation of the movement.