A sweeping exhibition of Italian Futurism at the Guggenheim
Upper East Side Just about a hundred years ago, at the birth of Modernism, artists like Picasso, Braque and Matisse were just starting to become accepted. Post-Impressionism, Cubism and Fauvism, while still on a tentative footing with the general public, had already become accepted and eagerly sought by serious collectors and museums.
A group of young Italian artists decided that Modern was just not up-to-date enough and joined together to explore a new style of work. They called themselves the Futurists.
As can be seen at the Guggenheim’s extensive, comprehensive and thoughtfully and expertly curated exhibition, Futurism was an artistic force with notable weight at the beginning of the 20th century and far reaching influence past its own time and place.
It traveled to Paris and beyond and widely influenced the era, particularly in Italy, through art, fashion, design, advertising and popular culture, as can be seen in the range of works in the exhibition, from paintings and sculptures to clothing to Campari ads.
The early 1900s was a time of unprecedented technological advancement. In just a few decades at the beginning of the 20th century, automobiles became common, airplanes were invented, homes were electrified and fitted with telephones. Movies came, then talkies, jazz. The sleek, shining 20th Century Limited whisked passengers from Chicago to New York in a day, and you could cross the Atlantic in under a week. These were things the previous generation never would have imagined. The Futurists sought to both embrace and capture this frenzied pace of life.
They applied their ideas to art, literature, music, architecture, fashion, and design, trying to spread their vision and their mission.
And, proving that not all ideas are good ideas, they published manifestos. The original Futurist Manifesto, written by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, proudly announced, “We want to glorify war — the only hygiene of the world — militarism, patriotism, … and the scorn of woman. We want to demolish museums, libraries, fight against moralism, feminism.”
Movements that scorn and exclude half their audience, (indeed, half the world) generally do not flourish. And when seen in context, the Futurists, whose divided, spinning, cut and reassembled world view arrived a few years after Cubists like Picasso and Braque had made their statements and changed the art world forever, may seem a bit behind their own times.
The Guggenheim has given the entire rotunda to the exhibition, the first comprehensive overview of Futurism to be shown in the United States. “Italian Futurism, 1909–1944: Reconstructing the Universe” features over 360 works. Some have never before been seen outside of Italy.
While there are many masterworks on view, like Umberto Boccioni’s “Unique Forms of Continuity in Space” and Giacomo Balla’s “Abstract Speed + Sound,” both iconic works of the 20th century, some of the most fascinating things on exhibit are those that give an idea of the breadth and popularity of the movement. Furniture, antipasti services, clothes made at the time, along with those rather extreme manifestos are all on view. Traveling up the ramp of the rotunda feels like traveling through a period of time. One can almost feel the intensity and fervor, the excitement, or for those of more traditional taste, the shock these works must have imparted to Italian society.
“Italian Futurism, 1909–1944: Reconstructing the Universe runs through September 1st.” There will be special programs including films, poetry readings, musical performances and curators’ talks to complement the exhibition throughout the summer.
The Guggenheim and senior curator, Vivien Greene, have brought together a tremendous amount of art and history, to give an incredible glimpse into a artistic movement unlike any other. Italian Futurism was a truly avant-garde movement in its own time, and an important influence on later styles like Art Deco. Manifestos notwithstanding, some of the look and feel of the most beloved buildings right here, in New York, might not be what they are without the vision of the Futurists.
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