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Futurism

Futurism, a movement in early-20th-century Italian painting and sculpture , was initiated by the literary manifesto of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, published in the French newspaper Le Figaro in February 1909.
Marinetti extolled the dynamic energy of the modern machine, declared that classical art was less beautiful than the automobile, and proposed that art should celebrate the violence of speed and war. He simultaneously decried conventional artistic taste and its preference for the achievements of the Italian past over recent innovations of technology. In the following year a group of young painters led by Umberto Boccioni produced a technical manifesto that applied Marinetti's ideas to painting.

Boccioni and his fellow signatories, Giacomo Balla, Carlo Carra, Gino Severini, and Luigi Russolo, sought to represent the sensations of movement and used the word dynamism to describe the relationship between a moving object and its surroundings, as when a vehicle, speeding along a street, sets up vibrations that shake surrounding buildings.

In order to represent the movement of machines and human figures, the futurists resorted to the techniques of French cubism, which used fragmented images consisting of intersecting planes to impart a sense of motion to their work. The celebrated Nude Descending a Staircase (1912; Philadelphia Museum of Art) of Marcel Duchamp reveals the shared characteristics of the two movements.

Through a series of similar forms distributed in jerky sequence across the canvas, Duchamp finds a concrete equivalent for the idea of descent. Like Duchamp, the futurists moved toward abstraction, striving to represent the noises of a construction site, as in Boccioni's The City Rises (1910-11; Museum of Modern Art, New York City), or the patterns of sound made by music, as in Russolo's Music (1911; private collection, London).

In a second manifesto of 1912, Boccioni applied futurist doctrine to the three-dimensional medium of sculpture, suggesting that a work of art might be set in motion by a motor and that sculpture might incorporate ready-made objects of common use. His ideas, which he did not live to put into practice, were later brought to fruition by kinetic art, and in the collage and assemblage of Pablo Picasso and Duchamp.

The futurist movement lost momentum when, in 1915, many of its members joined the army. The death of Boccioni in 1916 deprived the futurists of their guiding spirit. His theories did, however, find expression in the architecture of Antonio Sant'Elia, who designed futurist cities and technical installations, perpetuating an interest in the aesthetic beauty of the machine age. Thereafter the aims of futurism were absorbed by other movements, notably by Art Deco, vorticism, and Dada.


 
 

Bibliography:
Baldacci, P., and Daverio, P., eds., Futurism, 1911-18 (1991);
Clough, Rosa, Futurism (1961);
Hewitt, A., Fascist Modernism (1993);
Lista, G., Futurism (1986);
Perloff, Marjorie, The Futurist Movement (1987);
Tisdall, C., and Bozzola, A., Futurism (1978; repr. 1985).