Futurism: the tomorrow of the past

Futurism is the most important Italian avant-garde art movement of the 20th century, that celebrated advanced technology and urban modernity.

To be a Futurist in the Italy of the early 20th century was to be modern, young, and insurgent. Inspired by the markers of modernity—the industrial city, machines, speed, and flight—Futurism’s adherents exalted the new and the disruptive. [1]

Cityscape” by Tullio Crali, 1939

Cityscape by Tullio Crali, 1939

Nevertheless, they were interested in embracing popular media and new technologies to communicate their ideas. Their enthusiasm for modernity and the machine ultimately led them to celebrate the arrival of the First World War.

Sorvolando in spirale il Colosseo by TATO, 1930

Sorvolando in spirale il Colosseo by TATO, 1930

By its end the group was largely spent as an important avant-garde, though it continued through the 1920s, and, during that time several of its members went on to embrace Fascism, making Futurism the only twentieth-century avant-garde to have embraced far right politics.

The City Rises

The City Rises by Umberto Boccioni, 1910 // Oil on canvas, Museum of Modern Art

The City Rises is often considered to be the first Futurist painting. Here, Boccioni illustrates the construction of a modern city. The chaos and movement in the piece resemble a war scene as indeed war was presented in the Futurist Manifesto as the only means toward cultural progress. The large horse races into the foreground while several workers struggle to gain control, indicating tension between human and animal. The horse and figures are blurred, communicating rapid movement while other elements, such as the buildings in the background, are rendered more realistically. At the same time, the perspective teeters dramatically in different sections of the painting. The work shows influences of Cubism, Impressionism, and Post-Impressionism revealed in the brushstrokes and fractured representation of space.

Futurist architecture

House with external elevators (1914)_Sant'Elia

Antonio Sant’Elia // House with external elevators, 1914

Futurist architecture is characterized by strong chromaticism, long dynamic lines, suggesting speed, motion, urgency, and lyricism. The architect Antonio Sant’Elia, who, though building little, translated the futurist vision into an urban form. [2]


Footnotes: [1]  guggenheim.org/futurism/  [2]  wikipedia.org