Luigi Russolo, The Revolt (1913)
If you go around calling your art movement “Futurism”, then it almost goes without saying that your art is going to be concerned with representations of the future in all its industrial, noisy, bustling, high-tech glory. So it was with the Futurists, an artistic and social movement that originated in Italy at the beginning of the 20th century and spanned multiple artistic disciplines from sculpture to painting, film, theater, architecture, music, fashion, food, and graphic design. Embracing what we now bemoan about modern cities: the pollution, the chaos, as well as modern technology (which at the time included trains and automobiles rather than computers), they were happy to draw a line under the past and all the whimsy that came with the weepy ways of Romanticism, celebrating the concrete bollard over the sublime majesty of nature.
In 1909 F.T. Marinetti, an Italian poet, authored the Futurism Manifesto, publishing it on the front page of Parisian newspaper Le Figaro. This would come to be the movement’s bible, a rallying call to arms open to anybody, extolling the virtues of speed, motion and “aggressive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap”. It displayed an almost proto-punk enthusiasm for upsetting the status quo, ensuring maximum controversy while antagonizing the conservative general public. Like a teenager seeking to rile anyone and everyone, the manifesto goes on to say it will glorify war and destroy museums. Much like punk was a reaction to the excesses of prog rock, Futurism could be seen as a reaction to the folky excesses of Romanticism, which had held a steadfast hold over art and literature in the previous century.
The Futurist sentiment (or anti-sentiment) of celebrating the mechanical and embracing the idea of change was one that found supporters over in Russia, and was taken up by Russian poets and painters who took heart in this reactionary movement and its rebelliousness, reveling in the turbulence of the modern industrial world.
The movement’s painters—the most famous being Giacomo Balla, Umberto Boccioni, Luigi Russolo and Gino Severini—borrowed from Divisionism and developments in photography to create their own distinctive visual style. A Futurist painting (or sculpture) often used Cubism as its starting point and explored the aesthetic of what they called “dynamic sensation”, celebrating movement to produce semi-abstract paintings of motor vehicles, people, and social unrest, where motion and urgency are shown through repeated lines and multiple angles. Futurism also inspired Luigi Russolo to write his noise music manifesto The Art of Noises, which itself has been influential to modern music in all its guises.
Italy was the engine room of Futurism and as its adherents sought to lead the country into the glory of modernity, it came into contact with Fascism, which was embraced by the movement. Sadly, Futurism was ultimately rejected by Fascism when the Nazis declared most of modern art entartete Kunst, degenerate art.
The movement itself didn’t last long and was dying out in the 1920s, perhaps dying completely with Marinetti in 1944, but its influence can be felt in many art movements that came after, themselves often starting with a manifesto. Movements like Surrealism, the Stuckists, Dadaism, Constructivism, the Situationists and Vorticism, along with radical architects like Superstudio and filmmakers like Fritz Lang. In its geometric representations you can see hints of glitch art and the aesthetics of triangulated, generative art. And in fashion, designers like Alexander McQueen and, more recently, Iris van Herpen explore geometric shapes and bright colors, all things the Futurists embraced.
Below is a selection of works that helped define the movement:
Gino Severini, The Dance of the Pan-Pan at the “Monico” (1909-1911)
Umberto Boccioni, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913)
Natalya Goncharova, The Cyclist (1913)
Antonio Sant’Elia, Perspective for La Citta Nuova (1914)