Thursday, October 08, 2009

Futurism: An Anthology
Edited by Lawrence Rainey, Christine Foggi and Laura Wittman.
624 Pages 124 black and white illustrations
Yale University Press

Most books on Futurism I know, such as Futurism by Jane Rye (Studio Vista/Dutton), and Futurist Manifestos edited by Umbro Apollonio (Viking), tend to concentrate on it as an art movement, primarily in painting, especially the publications associated with an exhibit, such as the Museum of Modern Art volume by Joshua Taylor. Or they concentrate on another particular facet of the movement, such as Futurist Performance by Michael Kirby (Dutton.)

But this volume is much more comprehensive (and text-heavy.) Three broad sections (Manifestos and Theoretical Writings, Visual Repertoire, and Creative Works) are introduced by very informative essays, and include rare material, such as manifestos and other writings never published before, at least in English.

Lawrence Rainey’s opening historical overview shows how improvised Futurism actually was, and how it accumulated and mutated around its founder and impresario, F.T. Marinetti. It was almost an accidental movement, arising from Marinetti’s literary endeavors. It might have died out after a brief and local noise if it hadn’t attracted the painters who gave it lasting fame.

Marinetti wrote the first Futurist Manifesto in 1908, but by the end of World War I, most of the significant painters were either dead (Boccioni) or had abandoned Marinetti’s increasingly shrill brand of Futurism (Carra, Severini.) By the time Marinetti became involved with Mussolini and Fascism, they weren’t Futurists anymore.

But Futurism—or simply the idea of a break from stultifying tradition, clearing the deadwood and dreaming up grand utopian plans and ambitions—continued to draw artists of various kinds. This volume documents the entire movement, including often overlooked aspects, like photography.

Futurism continues to fascinate, beyond the significance of the works it generated, arguably not as great as those associated with Surrealism, perhaps Dada and certainly Cubism. The painting in particular relates just as well to all of those other “movements.” (Especially as Gino Severini was in touch with all of these artists in Paris.) Probably the architectural visions of Antonio Sant-Ella had the most substantial direct historical impact.

Italian Futurism arguably led directly to the Russian brand, and was partial inspiration for a number of art movements later in the century. There are echoes of the movement still, in such artistic adventures as the theatrical Neo-Futurists of Chicago.

A century after it began, Futurism remains intriguing partly because it was among the earliest and boldest statements in the arts distinguishing the modern age: the shock of the new. Partly it’s Marinetti’s championing of technology but mostly, I suspect, it’s the word. One of today’s different kind of futurists, computer scientist Eric Paulos issued his own “manifesto” on the 100th anniversary of Marinetti’s first Futurist manifesto.

In any case, this anthology is likely to be a major reference work for anyone interested in the early 20th century Futurist movement. The illustrations are only in black and white, but it does reproduce some of the typographical experiments. The introductions by Rainey, Poggi and Wittman are not only cogent but brisk and skillfully written, largely free of jargon and as potentially interesting to the general reader as the aesthetic specialist or scholar.

No comments: