Museum Junkie: Futurism at the Tate Modern

“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.

Celebrate the Francis Bacon centennial, starting in Madrid

Reclusive, crazy and not as prolific as most other artists, Francis Bacon produced only around 1,000 paintings before his death. Around the world, his pieces appear one or two at a time, but few have the resources or reason to assemble a large retrospective. This year, that changes.

One hundred years ago, Francis Bacon was born. For his centennial, exhibitions are rumored to be planned at London’s Tate and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. But, I was surprised to see a large sign as I walked along the Paseo del Prado last week: Francis Bacon. Until April 19, 2009, you’ll be able to witness the progression of this genius’s work over four decades, with a collection of unusual breadth and depth (take a closer look here).

This is an interesting time for Francis Bacon. Last year, his work was among the hottest in the world, with Russian energy figure Roman Abramovich dropping $86.3 million on a triptych painted in 1976. Not even a full year later, the art market is in turmoil, and the auction houses are unable to move Bacon’s work, it seems, at any price. It feels like a sad undercurrent to what should be a year of celebration, but New York artist Nelson Diaz disagrees.
Diaz appears to be downright prophetic, having protested the art market’s ascent with a political statement via eBay last summer. At the time, he explained that Bacon would have been disgusted with the high prices that his work fetched. Nelson’s protest is over, but it does make rich background for what should be a year of Francis Bacon retrospectives around the world.

In the video below, Nelson explains last summer’s project and its connection to Francis Bacon. If you’re looking to the future, his latest project is “The Isolated Christ.”

Whether you stop by the Tate, Met or Museo del Prado to enjoy the Francis Bacon centennial, keep this back-story in mind. It changes everything you’ll see.


Slums Are Home to Almost One Billion People

I spent some time in London this week. The city has a special place in my heart and that’s not only because the Tate Modern gallery is located there. Although it’s a big part of it. This power-plant-turned museum can–perhaps like no other modern art museum–truly catch the Zeitgeist.

Fortunately, I was able to catch the very last day of the Global Cities exhibit; a fascinating expose of the changing faces of ten global cities: Cairo, Istanbul, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Mumbai, Sao Paolo, Shanghai and Tokyo. It explores how each of them deal with its size, diversity, density, form and speed of growth.

Interesting stats:

  • In 2007, for the first time in history, one out of every two people in the world will be living in a city
  • One of of three city dwellers (almost one billion) currently live in slums
  • Cities produce 75 percent of the world’s carbon emissions
  • London is the world’s 360th fastest growing city, adding only 2.3 residents an hour
  • Shanghai is the 8th fastest growing city in the world, adding 29.4 new residents each hour
  • 66 percent of the population of Sao Paolo is under 20 years old
  • Cairo’s residential density is 36,500/km2, nine times more than London’s
  • Tokyo is the largest urban region in the world with 34 millions people, 80% of which use public transportation daily (comparing with 10% of LA residents)