Futurism was an artistic and social movement born out of the tumult of early 20th century Italy. The movement was concerned with capturing the dynamism and vitality of modern life. Unfortunately, for some Futurists this fetishization of industrialized society led to glorification of war and eventually fascism. Keeping the sordid side of Futurism in mind, let’s explore some of the movement’s most recognizable works and its colorful characters, among them Umberto Boccioni, Giacomo Balla, and Gino Severini.
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THE FUTURIST MANIFESTO
Any artistic movement worth its salt needs to have a manifesto, and Futurism was no exception. Italian poet F.T. Marinetti published Futurism’s 10-article manifesto in 1909. The manifesto begins with a preamble in which Marinetti describes riding a motorcycle with his comrades in rhapsodic terms, ending with him flying off the motorcycle into a ditch. The articles of the manifesto set forth some of Futurism’s key tenets, among them the glorification of speed. Marinetti states that: “A roaring motor car…is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.”
UNIQUE FORMS OF CONTINUITY IN SPACE
One of the most famous works of Futurism is Umberto Boccioni’s sculpture, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space. The sculpture, originally made of wax and plaster but later cast in bronze, depicts a human-like shape in mid-stride, with two pedestals under each foot. The marching, armless subject appears shaped by intense wind and speed. At the same time, the contours of the sculpture evoke the sleek machinery Boccioni valued so highly over the classical sculptures of Italy’s past.
THE CITY RISES
One of Boccioni’s other well-known works is his 1910 painting The City Rises. The City Rises depicts the city of Milan in the throes of industrialization. The background of the painting prominently features smokestacks modeled on the Central Power Plant of Milan’s Piazza Trento. The foreground of The City Rises is dominated by workers struggling to pull a massive red workhorse. The City Rises is a perfect example of Boccioni’s fascination with the concept of “plastic dynamism.”
Balla, born 1871, was one of the earliest Futurists. He instructed Boccioni and Severini in Divisionism, a painting technique in which colors were separated from each other into bands and patches. Balla painted many abstract studies of the fracturing of light into distinct colors, but he switched his focus to more Futurist themes with his painting Abstract Speed + Sound. This painting was thought to be part of a triptych depicting a race car through a Futurist lens. Perhaps Balla’s most famous work, however, is his Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash. The painting depicts a dachshund and the feet of a woman walking it, both blurred into multiple repetitions of themselves to suggest movement.
Not all Futurists were painters. F.T. Marinetti was a poet, novelist, and dramatist who laid the ideological foundations of Futurism. Marinetti first published The Futurist Manifesto in the French newspaper Le Figaro, and he dedicated his work to promoting Futurist principles. Some of his works include the play The Feasting King and the vigorously pro-war collection of poems, War the Only Hygiene of the World. Unfortunately, Marinetti became an ardent supporter of Mussolini’s fascist regime.
Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:
A bizarre relic of Futurist history is Balla’s “Anti-Neutral Suit.”
The Futurists who went to war in WWI rode something other than motorcycles to the front.
Read this article to learn more about Divisionism, including a list of Divisionist paintings.
This video provides plenty of examples of Futurist paintings, as well as an exploration of its impact beyond the borders of Italy.
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