Italian Futurism Show Has Much to Offer Art Lovers Everywhere

Ivo Pannaggi's "Speeding Train (Treno in corsa)." a 1922 oil on canvas painting from the Fondazione Carima-Museo Palazzo Ricci in Macerata, Italy Fondazione Cassa di risparmio della Provincia di Macerata

     While a discussion in an East Hampton community newspaper blog of the relevance of an Italian movement from the early part of the 20th century that has little to do with New York, let alone the East End, may be off-topic, it is still one worth offering.

     The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum has given over its vast spiral to the fullest examination of Futurism ever presented outside of Italy. Opening on Feb. 21, “Italiam Futurism, 1909-1944: Reconstructing the Universe” offers viewers a chance to re-examine one of the most ardent and revolutionary of early Modernist movements, and in particular its later complicated relationship to Italian Fascism.

     Speaking at the media preview on Thursday, Vivien Greene, the exhibition curator, noted that the show had some 400 objects, “if you count every teacup.” The show includes sculpture, photography, painting, film, decorative arts, costumes and stage designs for the theater, and countless printed manifestoes issued by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, the movement’s founder, and his followers.

     While French Cubism and to a lesser degree German Expressionism often get the most attention in art history books, Italian Futurism’s fascination with speed and modern technology and its attempts to capture them in the breakdown of realist images were as dynamic and radical as any of the other international movements carrying on concurrently. Today, that same impulse may be seen in artists adopting and adapting digital abstraction and pixellation in contemporary photography and prints, much in the way John Messinger, an East Hampton-based artist, incorporates computer screen images into his work.

     Its basis as a literary movement first and its use of language and photomontage would influence Modernist movements to come. The Futurist performance and theatrical pieces where attendees might be encouraged to destroy the theater as part of the work, are genetic forebears of contemporary performance art.

     Although their embrace of the modern world was partnered with a dedication to violence and aggression in overthrowing the classicism of prior historic periods, they never lost their Italian aestheticism. The objects here are as captivating as they were radical and sublime in their time. On the whole, they look as fresh as they day they were made, particularly the work of Umberto Boccioni, one of the earliest adherents and one of the most productive.

     Few exhibitions of recent memory seem as at home in the museum’s spiral as this one, where the Frank Lloyd Wright architecture is the perfect foil for the period’s frenzied movement, most often expressed as a vortex. There are loans from all over the world, but many of the major works come from museums such as the Musuem of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Guggenheim itself, a reinforcement of the importance these New York-based institutions have placed on acquiring and displaying the works of this time and place.

Umberto Boccioni's "Elasticity (Elasticità)," an oil on canvas painting from 1912 on loan from the Museo del Novecento in Milan Luca Carrà, Museo del Novecento, Comune di Milano
Umberto Boccioni's sculpures were completed by him in plaster, but were cast in bronze after his death, such as the iconic "Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (Forme uniche della continuità nello spazio)," made by the artist in 1913, but cast in bronze in 1949 from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.The Metropolitan Museum of Art Image Source: Art Resource, New York
Futurism, which began as a literary movement, was one of the first to embrace text in artwork as in this painting by Carlo Carrà titled "Interventionist Demonstration (Manifestazione Interventista)" from 1914, a long-term loan to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice from the Gianni Mattioli CollectionArtists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome. Photo: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York