FUTURISTS OF THE WORLD, UNITE AND TAKE OVER!
This last Saturday as the flurry of tours, VIP visits, and other activities and events associated with Art Basel finally began to subside, we had time to schedule an introductory tour of the library and presentation of some of our rare Futurist materials to a group of local Italian language teachers. The visit was organized by Antonietta Di Pietro with the intention of letting these instructor know more about our extensive collection, providing them with an orientation on how to access the materials online, and encouraging them to return some time in the future with their students.
In advance of their visit, we had laid out a number of rare Futurist materials ranging from vintage postcards, proofs, manifestos, and exceedingly rare books and exhibition catalogs. The work of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944), Fortunato Depero (1892-1960), Tato (1896-1974), Antonio Sant’Elia (1888-1916), Bruno Munari (1907-1998), and other Futurist agitators, artists, architects, and designers were well represented.
The founding member and lead spokesman for the movement, F. T. Marinetti saw Italy’s provincialism and preoccupation with history and tradition as holding Italy back. He and his avant-garde disciples, on the other hand, embraced the revolutionary technologies that promised speed and progress and a break with the past. In his “Manifesto of Futurism,” (published in Le Figaro of Paris on February 20th, 1909), Marinetti declared his scorn for the past and his allegiance to a future “enriched by a new beauty; the beauty of speed.” For Marinetti and his cohorts, the past was as burdensome as a cemetery—or worse, a museum—which he ridiculed as “absurd abattoirs of painters and sculptors…” To his sensibilities, a “roaring car that seems to ride on grapeshot” was infinitely more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace—the 2nd century BC marble sculpture of the Greek goddess Nike (Victory). Marinetti and his young cultural revolutionaries declared their intention to “glorify war—the world’s only hygiene—militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for women.” They also vowed to “destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind” and to “fight moralism, feminism, every opportunistic or utilitarian cowardice.” Reading this manifesto, it becomes easy to see how much these cultural revolutionaries had in common with Mussolini and the fascist revolutionaries coming to power in the early twenties.
The library possesses two especially rare and innovative book bindings by important futurist designers. We have, for example, Tullio D’Albisola’s futurist poetry L’anguria lirica (The Lyrical Watermelon) featuring illustrations by Bruno Munari. What made this limited edition especially interesting is that it the book’s binding and pages were made from tin and steel rather than paper.
We also hold a copy of Fortunato Depero’s infamous Depero Futurista (popularly known as the “bolted book.” In true futurist tradition, Depero decided to avoid a traditional sewn binding and celebrated the machine age by fastening his work together with industrial aluminum bolts. The interior pages of his work were equally innovative, as he used typography in such a manner as to force the reader out of passivity and into an interactive experience.
Some of the visitors were particularly taken with our collection of proofs designed by Fortunato Depero. These images were intended for use as chapter vignettes for a two-volume work describing each of the provinces of Italy.
Others were intrigued by some of our vintage postcards—details taken from the paintings of Tato in an attempt to capture speed and movement. Several of his postcard illustrations celebrate war and conflict (as in L’Assalto) and the fascist march on Roma and seizure of power (La Marcia su Roma).
We also had on display some exhibition catalogs highlighting the work of Antonio Sant’Elia, who was cut off in his prime at the World War I battles of the Isonzo in 1916.
In 1914 Sant’Elia reputedly was responsible for the publication of the manifesto of Futurist Architecture.
His inspired architectural drawings for a Città Nuova continue to inspire architects today and his renderings of skyscrapers rival anything dreamed up by artists and designers creating work for modern science fiction fantasies.
I only hope that the students that return with these teachers in the near future will be inspired with the bold and revolutionary imagery of the Futurists, even as we hope that they will also be repulsed by the fascistic values and agendas to which so many of these designers dedicated their art.