Art With A Stigma: Italian Futurism in NYC

Friday, February 21, 2014

"We intend to destroy museums, libraries, academies of every sort, and to fight against moralism, feminism..."

That is part of the legendary Italian Futurism manifesto, published in 1909 by Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti on the French newspaper Le Figaro. Even though the movement wanted to destroy museums, its work is now at a major one in New York, the Guggenheim, for its first comprehensive retrospective in the United States.

Although the movement ended in 1944, a retrospective is happening only now because Futurism had a stigma attached to it. WNYC's art critic Deborah Solomon says Marinetti denounced museums, women, film, institutions, and even pasta.

"It comes packaged with the silliest ideas in the history of art," she said. "The futurists sometimes can sound like a group of high school punks."

Solomon adds some of the art is better than the ideas, especially the early works.

Still, the Guggenheim show ends with what is considered the biggest criticism against Futurism: some of the art was propaganda for Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

"That explains why Futurism never went anywhere and why the Italians kind of felt out of the story of modern art in the latter 20th century," said Solomon.

Umberto Boccioni's
courtesy of Museo del Novecento, Milan and the Guggenheim.
Umberto Boccioni's "Elasticity," painted in 1912. Oil on canvas.
Large Crowd in the Piazza del Popolo, a piece by Francesco Cangiullo from 1914.
courtesy of private collection and the Guggenheim.
Large Crowd in the Piazza del Popolo, a piece by Francesco Cangiullo from 1914. Watercolor, gouache, and pencil on paper.
Tullio Crali's
courtesy of Casa Cavazzini, Museo d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Udine, Italy and the Guggenheim.
Tullio Crali's "Before the Parachute Opens," painted in 1939. Oil on panel.
courtesy of Touring Club Italiano Archive, Milan and the Guggenheim.
"Descending over San Pietro," a print made by Filippo Masoero between 1927-1937.
Carlo Carrá's
courtesy of Gianni Mattioli Collection, on long-term loan to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice
Carlo Carrá's "Interventionist Demonstration," created from tempera, pen, mica powder, and paper glued on cardboard, was created in 1914.


Deborah Solomon

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Comments [14]

Neil Thrun from Kansas City, USA

I found the review pretty superficial and lacking deeper background. The Futurists call to destroy the academies and museums in not a pure hatred of all things from the past, but of the stagnant, copycat classicism that was taught in academies across Europe.In this sense, their rejection of the past is not too different than other early 20th century movements like Dadaism, Constructivism, Suprematism etc.

I also think the criticism that they didn't use experimental media is uniformed (or maybe a result of what is in the exhibition). Marinetti is known for his experimental poetry, involving nonsense words, collage, abstract fonts and non-linear formats. Futurists invented Noise Music, and developed some of the first non-acoustic instruments. Futurist Cooking (briefly mentioned) turned eating in a theatrical experience. Futurist Clothing, Architecture and Theater also existed. This multi-media, 'Art Into Life" attitude was also shared by those other early 20th century movements.

I feel no need to "forgive the bad politics". In my opinion,their openly ideological manner of making art is a good thing. Rather, it is the academic and formalist attitude (that art can be appreciated for its purely visual qualities, apart from its ideology or historical context) that is the the more dangerous position, as it leads to anti-intellectual, anti-political attitudes, which are too easily co-opted by cynical commercial interests.

Feb. 26 2014 04:27 PM
Piero Pastorello from Monfalcone

thank you Deborah. all the best for you as well. I just regret I will not be able to visit the exhibiton in NY. :-) "Marciare per non marcire".

Feb. 25 2014 07:17 AM
Deborah Solomon from WNYC

To Piero Pastorello--Thanks for your thoughtful comments. And no need to debunk yourself as an "amateur," a word which in Latin (amatorem) refers to a lover. And who's to say that an art lover's view is any less valid than a scholar's? All best to you, D.

Feb. 24 2014 01:51 PM
Piero Pastorello from Monfalcone

the 1909-1944 timeframe is undoubtely too long to consider the movement from an unique perspective. I am not an academic, just an amateur: I believe we can identify at least three phases. up to the End of the 1st WW, up to the rise of Fascism, and then the regime years up to the collapse and defeat of Italy. let's keep in mind that the third part was an "institutional" phase, one where the founder -from the roaring anti-system years- became part of the establishment. Still Futurism was not completely considered 'State Art'. I believe because Mussolini was very suspicious of any possible leader that might emerge, other than himself. the same fate applied for instance to Gabriele d'Annunzio and Italo Balbo. So we have to read through a complex story. One full of hopes as well of tragedies for a people with a great past, living a hard present.

Feb. 24 2014 12:22 PM
Deborah Solomon from WNYC

Hello there Piero Pastorello!
Thanks so much for your comments. I agree with you that Boccioni is the real thing -- as is Balla, of course -- but might you agree with my point that the work of the Futurists in general fell off in the '30s, when politics seemed to dictate a more literal, less inventive approach to art? I am thinking of those airplane paintings, which struck me as pretty flat. Thanks again for your comments, and hope all lis well in Monfalcone.

Feb. 24 2014 11:20 AM
Piero Pastorello from Monfalcone

In any case, read Boccioni's "Pittura e scultura futurista", I believe you'll find no politics in there, but the thoughts of an artist at the forefront of his times.

Feb. 24 2014 12:59 AM
Lorenzo Irico from New York

Oh my Ms. Deborah, what a review! It's obvious to the eyes of recent human history that fascism was one of the most despicable moments, being nazism the most one. that's a given. But discounting Futurism merely as a propaganda medium would be a crass mistake. I think the deeper the sociopolitical implications of the art movements are the deeper the understanding and consideration should be. And this is where Ms. Solomon's review fails. Looks like her approach is unidirectional, almost biased, without much regard or understanding of the global picture at that given time in history.
Much of the unconditionally celebrated art in the world comes from violent and obscure times and events, but we cannot disregard or depreciate the value of it because of this. Granted that futurism is not the apex of artistic expression it definitely has more to it than what is stated by our beloved reviewer. By the way stating that Depero with his commercial work and children toys-like aesthetic is what there is to be praised about shows the depth of the critic.
Finally the declaration that "Italians kind of felt out of the story of modern art in the latter 20th century" is really up to the informed reader to evaluate. I guess that artists like Giorgio De Chirico or Piero Manzoni means nothing to Ms. Solomon.

Feb. 23 2014 08:56 AM

Well, I am very sorry for Ms. Solomon's critic, but the minimum I can say of her review is "superficial". She just touches the bluntest clichés, probably to cover a lack of study of the subject. If it is true that the movement suffered the stigma of 'Fascist art' (those folks were consistent with their beliefs, thus having 'lost their war' in 1945 they were punished with the damnatio memoriae), their contribution to art and contemporary life is immense: as an avantgarde they introduced the total art, including also language, theatre, music, advertising, architecture, etc.. I understand that Italy in 1909 might have looked like a distant and backward periphery to the eyes of the already industralized superpowers of the time (UK, France, Germany, the US), but while their mainstream was still playing with Art Noveau and Secession fascinations, and Cubism had only started to deconstruct reality, it were the Italians who ignited the spark of the hypertexted and constantly over the tones societies we live in. If she is just impressed by the 'anti-feminism' statement, I suggest Ms.Solomon to discover what Futurist Women contributed to this outstanding legacy. Politically correctness might still imply a condemnation to all those crazy fascist (or, more likely, just Nationalist) 'punks', but intelligent perspectives tells us a different story.

Feb. 22 2014 04:49 AM

Why on earth you keep quoting Mrs Solomon? It's quite obvious she does not have any competence to write on this subject.

Feb. 22 2014 03:23 AM
Deborah Solomon from WNYC

Hi Franco from NY --

Thanks for writing. I am hardly arguing for art that is politically correct. But I do think that art that openly extols fascism is problematic. Go see the Futurism show at the Gugg and then we can talk! There is a lot there that is wonderful (esp the abstract paintings circa 1913) and much that is silly propaganda, esp. the paintings from the '30s offering views OF airplanes and FROM airplanes. Roberta Smith of the NYT, in her review today, praised the the Campari ads of Fortunato Depero and I could not agree more.

Feb. 21 2014 03:44 PM
franco from New York

I was listening to the radio this morning and heard this appalling interview... According to Deborah Solomon's very conservative "progressive" view, people should dismiss everything that is not politically correct today... so why read the Divine Comedy? After all, Muslims and gays are in hell!!! Why read Shakespeare? He spoke badly about Jews in some comedies...
Such views express a very dangerous and self-indulgent egotism, always eager to feel indignant to other people's sins without even trying to understand that they might be the roots of our world views today––liberal views included.
I think it's part of our job to dismantle such narrow-mindedness and I am so sad that such a great cultural institution such as WNYC spread such views.

PS: and I personally prefer young punks than people that are always on the right side (of history, of politics, of morality...)

Feb. 21 2014 12:10 PM
Sally patt from Ny

Fascism can't be forgiven especially art that glorifies it.

Feb. 21 2014 11:39 AM
John Hall from NYC

I think the art is stronger than the politics, it lives beyond that.
Is there a racist subtext here? Is Wagner equal to Hitler?
Get a bigger mind!

Feb. 21 2014 09:33 AM

Is there a single show that Deborah Solomon likes?
Apparently it's easier or more convenient to hate than love.

Feb. 21 2014 08:53 AM

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