Italian art: 6 things you probably didn't know about futurism

Apr 15, 2016 1503

WTI Magazine #78    2016 April 15
Author : Giulia Carletti      Translation by:


Born as the most instinctual and – possibly – irrational response to 20th century scientific and technological innovations, Futurism was an artistic Italian movement celebrating the energy, speed, and power of the machine, thereby advocating the vitality of modern life and the purifying effect of war ("the world's only hygiene"). In the visual arts, this doctrine was mirrored upon the optical reproduction of movement and upon the exaltation of speed, through repetitions of forms (in painting) and multiple planes (in sculpture).

Those angry and rebellious Italian intellectuals pointed their fingers at museums, libraries, and the whole classical heritage – from Ancient Rome to Renaissance to modern times – as if that culture had become obsolete and thus something to fight against and, eventually, defeat.

That is what Futurism was about: destroying of the old system of ideas in order to give space to the roaring modernity. And this is probably what most of Italian-art enthusiasts know about Futurism. However, there are some other interesting facts, which will undeniably intrigue you, and that will reveal something more about this bombastic movement.

1. A movement born in Italy. It is a not-well-known yet confirmed fact that Futurism's Manifesto, written in 1909 by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, was first published in Italy, and not in France. Many Italian newspapers, such as the Tavola Rotonda of Naples, the Gazzetta dell'Emilia of Bologna, the Gazzetta di Mantova, and L'Arena of Verona were the first disseminators of the new "doctrine", which, only later, reached the French newspaper Le Figaro. That highlights Futurism as a specifically Italian movement, which kept yet a European vocation.

2. Modigliani's refusal. The painter Amedeo Modigliani was actually asked to join the group. Gino Severini, Italian painter living in Paris at that time, had to choose whether or not to adhere to Futurism's ideals and practices. So he asked Modigliani for an advice. It was at that point that Severini himself invited the artist to join the movement. However, Modigliani's response was negative, and reported as such by Severini: "He was not interested in such manifestations [...]. He discouraged even me to get involved." Operating during that period of "-isms," Modigliani did not want to be categorized within any of those predominant labels.

3. Eat fresh and futurist. Visual arts were not the only field explored by Futurism. Mentality and taste had to be changed under every aspect, even meals! That is what pushed Marinetti to publish the Manifesto of Futurist Cooking (1930) in Turin. As long as people "think, dream and act according to what they eat and drink", cooking and eating needed to be part of the whole aesthetic experience Futurism advocated. We can fairly assume that it was indeed Futurism that really promoted cuisine as a form of conceptual art. Futurist meals were very creative and challenge all preconceptions about food (and taste!). Mutton fillet and shrimps sauce, banana and cheese, herring and strawberry jelly were just a few "creative" juxtapositions that Futurist cooks experimented.

4. Futurist women. The writer and artist Valentine de Saint Point wrote an actual Manifesto della Donna Futurista in 1912 as a response to Marinetti's. This Manifesto reported what de Saint Point proposed as a modern view on women. Here are a few lines: "Enough of those women, the octopuses of the hearth, whose tentacles exhaust men's blood and make children anemic, women in carnal love who wear out every desire so it cannot be renewed!"; and "We must not give woman any of the rights claimed by feminists [...] To give duties to woman is to have her lose all her fecundating power." Feminism was way too far from these words, but it is interesting to notice the influence Futurism was having throughout society, to the point that a well-cultured woman would have promoted a form of self-suppression.

5. Futurist punches. Aggressiveness belonged not only to the field of art and ideas, but also to the real artistic life of the group. Futurists' exhibitions often ended up in riots – more or less organized – which terminated with the arrival of security forces. Such events resulted in gaining a relevant interest by the media, which treated them as gossips and did nothing but giving huge resonance to the whole movement. In this way is not hazardous to say that Futurists acted just like modern advertisers by spreading their image through the public.

6. Pioneers of graphic design. As part of Futurism's advertising machine, the printed word was extremely important in order to effectively propagate controversial doctrines and artistic theories. The movement was originally based in poetry and literature, and published in magazines, pamphlets and books, but soon spread to all arts and practices. Futurists understood that influencing also the common taste was key. Hence, a typographic revolution took shape in 1913, obviously through another Manifesto that advocated the importance of visual effects in written words. Their bizarre poetic layouts aimed at evoking the speed of modernity and the noise of urban life. In this way, Futurism literally made the written word turn into images.

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