“Today we are founding Futurism, because we want to free our country from the smelly gangrene of its professors, archaeologists, tour guides and antiquarians.”
On February 20, 1909, the front page of the Italian newspaper Le Figaro was taken up with the Manifesto of Futurism, a new movement of artists, poets, and performers who revolutionized modern art. They rejected all the past–traditional painting, museums, history, religion, marriage, and just about everything else they could think of while embracing modernity in all its forms. They loved movement, anarchy, technology. When World War One started in 1914, they hailed it as the first modern war and formed the Lombard Battalion of Volunteer Cyclists and Automobilists. Their Manifesto stated that war was “the world’s only hygiene.”
The energy of their work, shown here in Impressions in a Dance Hall (1914) by Belgian Futurist Jules Schmalziguag, soon captivated the art world.
Futurism is a new exhibition at London’s Tate Modern that studies the development of this movement. The exhibition covers the movement’s origins in Italy and its rapid spread across Europe from England to Russia. What started with painting soon made its impact felt in sculpture, literature, architecture, even music. Part of Futurism’s success was the artists’ shameless self-promotion, with more than fifty manifestos coming out in the five years after the initial one in La Figaro. Some of these manifestos and Futurist literary magazines are also on display, along with paintings from the competing movement of Cubism, The Futurists were opposed to Cubism, of course, because it took attention away from them, and were in the habit of calling Picasso a “boor.” They called themselves boors too, so it’s hard to tell if they were really insulting him, or themselves, or neither, or both.
The Futurists would have loved seeing their work in the Tate Modern. The building is a converted power station with a soaring central space that was once taken up by a massive turbine. The museum is filled with modern art, installation pieces, and video displays. This ultramodern setting may have even made the Futurists forget that museums were nothing but “graveyards”.
“Museums, graveyards!” the original Manifesto fomented. “They’re the same thing, really, because of their grim profusion of corpses that no one remembers.”
Futurism started at the Tate Modern on June 12 and runs until September 20.