Back To The Futurists

The Italian Futurists had an obsession with all things modern - the city, the automobile, the plane. They turned their backs on the past and set their sites on the technological future - hence their name. Their mania for speed, whether that of a fast moving car or a diving plane, was based upon a veneration of technology; they even came to identify the din of the city as “The Art of Noise,” - the mechanical world’s equivalent to bird song and the babbling brook. Now a new Italian museum, The Wolfsoniana, presents a major collection of Futurist works consisting of some 20,000 objects and 17,000 documents; which includes an original copy of “The Futurist Manifesto,” the influential proclamation written in 1909 by the movement’s founder, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti.

However, while the Futurist vision of a machine world was brilliantly expressed aesthetically, it was doomed to ultimate failure because it was coupled with fascist ideology. Marinetti’s angry manifesto heralded a new art movement but also prefigured the fascist takeover of Italy. In his original statement Marinetti proclaimed, “We want to glorify war - the only cure for the world.”

Futurist ceramic tiles by Corrado Cagli and Dante Baldelli (1931,) depicting Mussolini’s rise to power.

[ Futurist ceramic tiles by Corrado Cagli and Dante Baldelli (1931,)
depicting Mussolini’s rise to power. ]


In retrospect it’s easy to be dismissive of the Futurists for their close connections to Benito Mussolini, but their rhetoric was remarkably similar in tone to things I hear and read today. How is our current infatuation with technology any different than theirs? The Futurist glorification of patriotism, love of the military, empire and strong leadership, along with a militant disdain for pacifists and feminists - begs the question, “How do you know you are not a fascist?” Perhaps we’ll find the answer by studying the Wolfsoniana collection of artworks prompted by Italy’s bygone totalitarians.

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